It’s one thing to send a bogus legal threat in an effort to suppress criticism, because usually the only consequence of that is public humiliation and a little Streisand Effect heat; but if you really want to score an own-goal, the best way to do so is to send a fake court order to Google ordering removal of someone else’s embarrassing post from its search index, forging a judge’s signature to give it that really authentic look-and-feel.
It’s amazing how many people get this brilliant idea. Back in 2017, it was Michael Arnstein, CEO of the Natural Sapphire Company, who was sentenced to nine months in prison for it.
Now, CBS has found more than 60 more of these forged court orders in the public database of takedowns that have been served to Google. Some of them reference clients of a “reputation management” company called Web Savvy, LLC, whose CEO, John Rooney, told an undercover CBS crew that other companies go to “risky…grey areas” that he won’t enter.
But Rooney couldn’t explain why one of his clients was referenced in a forged court order sent to Google demanding removal of an embarrassing court order.
Many of the fake court orders that CBS turned up were putatitively issued by a judge in Hamilton County, Ohio. The court clerk, local law-enforcement, and the FBI are investigating these.
While some of the fakes that CBS found were seeming attempts to launder the reputations of businesses, two were censorship attempts that targeted factual information identifying their subjects as sex offenders who had targeted children.
It seems unlikely that CBS’s methodology was exhaustive, so if they found 60 of these, there are probably lots more in the database. Uncovering these would make for an interesting data-mining exercise.
CBS News worked with Volokh and identified more than 60 fraudulent court orders sent to Google. Some are obviously fake, like one with a case number of “1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9.” Others are more sophisticated, and appear to be drawn from nine different federal courts across the country. The most recent fake court document we identified was submitted in April.
CBS News investigation finds fraudulent court orders used to change Google search results [Jim Axelrod and Andy Bast/CBS News]
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