The Google Hate Speech Incident

Dennis Faas's picture

Is the FBI poking around your e-mail?

Randall C. Ashby II used his Google Mail (Gmail) account to distribute hate speech -- and that was all the feds needed to investigate him.

On May 22nd, 2006, Ashby signed up for Gmail and sent a threatening message to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP immediately forwarded the offensive letter to the FBI.

Here's a transcript of Ashby's e-mail:

Warning: The following quote contains disturbing content!

"You are no match for our numbers and our power. We will come out of the night and rise from the dirt to murder you in your sleep. Meet us on 6/6/06 to seal your fate. The end is at hand, accept your place at the foot of the true masters throne. The kingdom of god is for naught, Hell will rule the earth soon enough. We will meet you at the center of sin, Washington on June 6th or you can hide and die like the insignificant mortals you are. Christ is Dead."

From there, the FBI issued a federal grand jury subpoena to extract information from Google about the identity of the person behind the account. Google supplied them the Internet handle Ashby used for his Gmail account -- AntiChrist Millenium -- and his secondary e-mail account -- a Yahoo Mail address.

With the Yahoo trail now open, the FBI was able to extract the perpetrator's real name and IP address -- a unique string of numbers that can identify various details about a specific Internet connection.

With Ashby's IP information, the feds were able to find out that both Gmail and Yahoo e-mail accounts were used on the same day, from the same location: a law office in Weston, West Virginia.

The FBI's next step was (obviously) to pay a visit to the law firm. There, they discovered that the company's annex office was accessible from an apartment across the street. The FBI unsurprisingly found out that Ashby had rented the apartment from May 20, 2006 to June 2006.

Randall Ashby obviously went to a lot of trouble just to send a piece of hate mail to the NAACAP. But, as they always say, every criminal makes at least one mistake. Ashby's major error was leaving a forwarding address for Dover, Delware.

The FBI caught up to Ashby in Dover. He admitted to accessing the Yahoo e-mail address. But it was Gmail that Ashby used to commit the crime. Luckily for the FBI, they now had enough probable cause to obtain a search warrant. With that, they were finally able to acquire their own firsthand proof about Ashby's Gmail address and illegal activities. (Source:

Here are pictures of the search warrant (courtesy of Picture 1 | Picture 2.

Think Ashby's case is an isolated incident?

Think again!

Believe it or not, this apparently isn't the only time federal investigators have requested information from e-mail providers about certain users. According to a New York attorney, it happens more often than you think:

"I'm an attorney in New York, and this sort of thing happens quite frequently, in both civil and criminal actions. Civil parties can subpoena Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo for gmail, hotmail, or yahoo email account information, including any and all emails sent from a specific email address. As this practice is legally acceptable for civil actions, it would certainly seem reasonable to allow such requests (via valid search warrants) in the context of criminal cases involving real threats of violence or otherwise. Of course, defense attorneys can and do frequently challenge such requests and confidentiality and/or protective orders are often required before information is released. But this is certainly nothing new or surprising in the legal realm -- Google and Microsoft must receive thousands of similar search warrants and subpoenas each day and likely have a separate legal department for dealing with such requests." (Source:

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