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Google refuses to open firm's gmail for liquidator

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'Google Ireland said in court that it has concerns over protecting the privacy of individuals.' Stock photo: Jonathan Brady/PA

'Google Ireland said in court that it has concerns over protecting the privacy of individuals.' Stock photo: Jonathan Brady/PA

'Google Ireland said in court that it has concerns over protecting the privacy of individuals.' Stock photo: Jonathan Brady/PA

Google has claimed it can't hand access to a gmail account to the Revenue-appointed liquidator of an Irish company because of privacy rules, even if it was used for company business.

At the High Court in Dublin Justice David Keane reserved judgment in the case yesterday saying there was "significant food for thought".

The case of SJK Wholesale Ltd and Miles Kirby - acting as liquidator for the Revenue - versus Google Ireland centres on the liquidator seeking an order granting access to an email account he believes belongs to SJK Wholesale Limited and is therefore property of the company in liquidation.

Google Ireland said in court that it has concerns over protecting the privacy of individuals.

It said gmail accounts were for individuals, not companies.

Among the arguments put forward by counsel for Google Ireland was that people sometimes use personal emails for business affairs - highlighting the case of a "former US presidential candidate who had used her personal email for government business."

Miles Kirby was appointed as liquidator of SJK Wholesale in February last year on foot of an application from the Revenue.

A barrister representing the liquidator said he was looking to gain access to the email account sjkwholesaleltd@gmail.com

As well as being placed into liquidation and allegedly having "errors" in how it handled VAT, the company, SJK Wholesale, is alleged to be linked to a UK fraud probe.

Documents mentioned in court stated that the UK NHS Anti-Fraud Authority contacted the liquidator over their investigation into whether SJK Wholesale bought vehicles using criminal property.

The barrister for the liquidator said the email account constitutes company documents and should be returned to the liquidator, Mr Kirby. He said Jawad Khan, a director of SJK Wholesale, told Mr Kirby that all the company's financial information was sent from the email account.

During proceedings, Mr Justice Keane said it was possible for anyone to open an email account in any name and that Google's response was "standard".

He questioned who the data or documents in the email account belonged to; whether that be Google, an individual, or the company, in which case Mr Kirby would be entitled to the documents.

Google Ireland said it would uphold the privacy rights of individuals.

It was argued by Google that it does not share a person's information except in certain circumstances.

It added that it doubted the legal basis for the liquidator's application for a court order.

It said representatives for Mr Kirby were looking for the property of the entire email account, which is said may contain diary entries, photos and so on. This created a "significant proportionality issue," the barrister for Google argued.

In response, the legal representative for the liquidator said the application was not about access to pictures, however Justice Keane said it was "all duck or no dinner if you want ownership" of the email account.

Justice Keane said he hopes to provide judgement in the coming weeks.

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