EFF and ERI fight to quash ‘speech-chilling’ subpoenas from Chevron
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and EarthRights International (ERI) have requested judges in California and New York to quash subpoenas issued by Chevron Corporation to three email providers demanding identifying information about the users of more than 100 email accounts.
The accounts include those of journalists, environmental activists and attorneys.
According to the EFF, the giant oil corporate’s demands “could be used to create a detailed map of the individuals’ locations and associations over nearly a decade”.
The Foundation said that Chevron’s subpoenas are the latest salvo in the long-running battle over damage caused by oil drilling in Ecuador. After years of litigation, an Ecuadorian court last year imposed a judgment of over $17 billion on Chevron for dumping toxic waste into Amazon waterways and causing massive harm to the rainforest.
Instead of paying, Chevron sued more than 50 people who were involved in the Ecuador lawsuit, claiming they were part of a conspiracy to defraud the oil giant. None of the individuals represented by EFF and ERI has been sued by Chevron or accused of wrongdoing.
“Environmental advocates have the right to speak anonymously and travel without their every move and association being exposed to Chevron,” said Marcia Hofmann, EFF Senior Staff Attorney. “These sweeping subpoenas create a chilling effect among those who have spoken out against the oil giant’s activities in Ecuador.”
The motions to quash asked the courts to reject the subpoenas, pointing out that anonymous speakers who are not parties in a lawsuit receive particularly strong First Amendment protections.
EFF first won court recognition of this protection in Doe v. 2theMart.com in 2001.
Chevron’s subpoenas also violate the legal protections for the right of association for political action that were developed during the civil rights era.
“The courts have long recognized that forcing activists to reveal their names and political associations will chill First Amendment rights and can only be done in the most extreme situations,” added Marco Simons, Legal Director of ERI, which has provided legal assistance to third parties affected by the Chevron litigation in two international proceedings. “We look forward to having those longstanding principles applied in this case so that people can engage in journalism and political activism and assist in litigation against environmental destruction without fear that their identities and personal email information will be put at risk.”
EFF and ERI are challenging the subpoenas to Google and Yahoo! in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and the subpoena to Microsoft in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. Peter Henner is local counsel working with EFF and ERI in New York.
For the motion to quash in the Northern District of California: https://www.eff.org/document/nd-cal-motion-quash
For the motion to quash in the Northern District of New York: https://www.eff.org/document/ndny-motion-quash
For more information about the case and supporting documents: https://www.eff.org/cases/chevron-v-donziger