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One year later: Marizela is still missing; Plus: A public appeal to Google

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By Michelle Malkin  •  March 5, 2012 02:40 AM

Exactly one year ago today, my 18-year-old cousin Marizela (known affectionately to her family and friends as “Emem” or “Mei”) Perez disappeared from the University of Washington campus in Seattle.

She is still missing.

Those words form on the computer screen with disembodied disbelief. But my heart is screaming:

SHE IS STILL MISSING. WHY, DEAR GOD, WHY?!!!!!

The not-knowing is every parent’s worst nightmare. It brought normal life to a standstill for Marizela’s parents, Edgar and Jasmin. And yet, they have to keep living and working and praying for their only daughter. Because that is what they must do. Their strength and dignity through all the suffering has been an inspiration to me.

There have been no new developments in Emem’s case. No word from the police or the medical examiner’s office. No activity on her bank accounts or social media accounts.

And no response from the Google legal department to our request for help in January.

As regular readers of this blog know, the family’s quest to obtain Marizela’s online information has been a series of endless frustrations, bureaucratic incompetence, and apathy.

It is especially maddening to read ongoing stories about Google’s deliberate corporate decision to override customers’ privacy wishes against their wishes and to commoditize users’ individual browsing/searching/email data in order to increase ad revenue, while they ignore public-interest requests to share that crucial information with families of the missing.

My message to Google’s legal department:

from Michelle Malkin writemalkin@gmail.com
to [name redacted]
date Thu, Jan 5, 2012 at 12:24 AM
subject From relative of Marizela Perez
mailed-by gmail.com

Hi [name redacted] – Belated New Year’s greetings. I don’t know if you remember me, but we communicated by email last spring about my missing teenage cousin, Marizela Perez. Tomorrow, January 5, marks the 10-month anniversary since her disappearance. Our family is very grateful that your company cooperated with the Seattle Police Department in responding to their very limited subpoena request for some of Marizela’s Google-related information.

Here is our dilemma. While the case remains open, the Seattle police are for all practical purposes treating it as a closed and shut case. They will not share the information they obtained from the subpoena — which our family pushed for in the first place. If we had access to that information, we could continue the search for Marizela on our own that the SPD has neither the time, resources, or inclination to pursue. As a fellow parent, I hope you understand our despair and our refusal to give up. My question is this: What are the chances that Google would release the info in the search warrant return to us if we pursued it through legal means? My understanding is that federal electronic records privacy law has done very little to take into account unique situations like ours.

If you have a chance, could you ring me at [redacted]. If you can’t, I understand. But I’m at wit’s end — especially knowing the information we seek is perishable — and running out of ideas. Appreciate your time and consideration.

Best,
Michelle

Google’s corporate motto is “Don’t Be Evil.” How about trying to “Be Good” and accommodate desperate customers who are actually begging you to make privacy exceptions?

***

We have posted Marizela’s missing persons flyer, photos, videos and more at http://findmarizela.com/. The tip line number for citizens who may have any information that might aid in the search is 1-855-MARIZEL. We remain eternally grateful to all those who have supported, aided, and prayed for Emem and her parents from day one.

Reminder: As we’ve noted since the day of her disappearance, she was taking anti-depressants at the time of her disappearance. The daunting possibility that she took her life, and the signs that cannot be ignored, still weighs heavily on our minds — as do all the other frightening possibilities as her case remains unsolved and unresolved. I’ve urged you before to support volunteer groups that provide hope and solace for those in need. To honor Marizela, I ask again that you do so if you are able.

Cherish life.

Lahat ay magiging maayos: All will be well.

***

5 quick lessons for families whose young adults go missing:

1) Document EVERYTHING.

2) Take an immediate and full inventory of your loved one’s Internet footprint — every email account, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and social networking account.

3) Don’t assume the police are pinging cell phones, obtaining Internet or phone records, or obtaining surveillance camera video. Don’t assume anything.

4) Make sure your loved one’s info gets into the NAMUS database immediately.

5) Don’t be afraid to be a squeaky wheel. If you don’t speak up, no one will.

***

One area of public policy that needs to be addressed is how federal electronic privacy law fails to account for cases like ours. And we know there must be countless ones like it where law enforcement presumes the missing person is dead, but continues to keep the case technically “open” and shields information from public disclosure that might assist families in their own private search efforts.

Why should law enforcement have the first and last word? Why, under current law, should Internet companies only cooperate with law enforcement requests for information when there may be times law enforcement has institutional incentives (financial, bureaucratic, political, or otherwise) to drag their feet? To address corporate liability concerns, why not a special court to adjudicate these matters akin to a special court of inquiry or along the lines of the FISA court system?

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