News & Politics

It's Not Just the NSA! Judge Rules That Chevron Can Collect Private Info of People Suing Them

The successful move by Chevron is about harassing activists, a lawyer said.

Crude oil in an open toxic oil waste pit abandoned by Chevron in the Ecuadorean Amazon Rainforest near Lago Agrio.
Photo Credit: Caroline Bennett / Rainforest Action Network

The oil giant Chevron has received access to private Internet and phone data from Microsoft users.

As The Progressive’s Tina Gerhardt reports, the decision by a federal judge in late June opens the way for Chevron to obtain the personal information of people involved in a lawsuit that successfully forced the company to pay billions because of harmful activities in Ecuador.

In 2011, Chevron was ordered to pay $18 billion to the government of Ecuador for polluting the Amazon river basin. Residents of Ecuador had accused Texaco, which Chevron took over in 2001, of dumping toxic material into the river. Chevron appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it was denied. Still, the money has yet to be paid; Chevron has little assets in Ecuador because it stripped them out before the legal case was concluded, and now plaintiffs in the suit have filed suit in other countries seeking the money.

Chevron is going on the offensive here in the U.S. The judge’s order now grants Chevron “the identity of the users of the email addresses, including 'all names, mailing addresses, phone numbers, billing information, date of account creation, account information and all other identifying information,’” according to The Progressive. The “users” are those involved in the suit against Chevron.

Earth Rights International Attorney Marissa Vahlsing says that Chevron is harassing activists and “that Chevron seeks to establish a blueprint to go on the offensive.”

Because of the judge’s order, Chevron will get access to documents that identify Microsoft account holders and IP addresses. In total, the data gives Chevron the ability to determine the countries, cities, and building addresses.

This isn’t the first time Chevron has tried to obtain electronic information on people fighting against them. In September 2012, the oil company demanded user information on 71 e-mail accounts from Google and Yahoo.

And yet another subpoena was served to the activist group Amazon Watch in November 2012, demanding “almost all internal documents and communications, memos, Facebook postings and emails related to Chevron campaigns and litigation,” The Progressive reported. Amazon Watch has been a major player in the fight against Chevron.

But that subpoena was dismissed in April 2013 on First Amendment grounds.


Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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