President Obama’s recent Africa tour could be of great significance.
On June 25, a federal judge approved a subpoena, to be served by Chevron to Microsoft, granting the oil company private Internet and phone data related to 30 email addresses, including those related to environmental nonprofits, activists, journalists and lawyers.
This information forms part of a larger fishing expedition by Chevron to go after those who won an $18 billion judgment against the company in Ecuador in February 2011 for dumping 18.5 billion gallons of highly toxic waste into the streams and rivers in the rainforests of eastern Ecuador.
In its retaliatory lawsuit, Chevron claims that "this judgment is the product of fraud." And it is seeking the IP addresses of individuals involved in the suit over a nine-year period.
In particular, the subpoena calls for the production of all documents related to "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."
Like the NSA, Chevron claims that "the subpoena does not call for contents of emails sent or received by any of the thirty email addresses." It does however request Microsoft to "produce documents identifying the account holders and their available personal information" and "the IP address connected with every subsequent login to each account over a nine-year period."
As the subpoena itself states, it would allow Chevron to determine the countries, states, cities and even building addresses from which accounts were used.
Chevron also served subpoenas around September 18, 2012,to Google and Yahoo, demanding IP logs and identifying information for approximately 71 email accounts. Earth Rights International and the Electronic Front Foundation filed a motion to quash these subpoenas on First Amendment grounds in northern California on November 28, 2012.
According to Marissa Vahlsing, attorney, Earth Rights International (ERI), working on the case, "Chevron lost in Ecuador. Now, they have gone on the offensive in the U.S."
"Chevron fought particularly hard," she continued, "to enforce two extremely broad and invasive subpoenas against Amazon Watch, which has been running the Clean Up Ecuador Campaign for a decade."
In November 2012, Chevron served Amazon Watch a 28-page subpoena, demanding almost all internal documents and communications, memos, Facebook postings and emails related to Chevron campaigns and litigation.
The request included "all documents concerning any protests, rallies, marches, demonstrations, petitions or other similar events concerning Chevron or the Chevron litigations."
It included "all documents concerning any activities organized, created, or held on social media including, but not limited to, Facebook and Twitter, concerning Chevron or the Chevron litigations."
The subpoena was quashed on April 5, 2013, on First Amendment grounds. The document quashing it stated that "Amazon Watch has made a prima facie showing that the subpoenas seek information protected by the First Amendment."
With the latest subpoena, Vahlsing says activists are being "harassed and chilled" and "that Chevron seeks to establish a blueprint to go on the offensive."
Tina Gerhardt is an independent journalist and academic who covers energy policy, climate negotiations and related direct actions. Her work has appeared in Alternet, Climate Progress, Grist, The Nation, The Progressive and the Washington Monthly.