Google Gets Flood Of Government User Data Requests
November 14, 2013

Amid Flood Of Gov’t Requests For User Data, Google Pushes For Greater Transparency

Enid Burns for - Your Universe Online

Google has released its eighth Transparency Report, noting the number of requests it gets from governments around the world for user information has increased by more than 100 percent since the search engine first began its disclosures in 2010.

The highlights of the Transparency Report were outlined in a post on the Google Public Policy Blog written by Richard Salgado, legal director of Law Enforcement and Information Security at Google. The report points to a parallel in usage growth with the increase in government requests.

In this report, Google included new information about the legal process for US criminal requests. There are several types of requests from the government such as emergency disclosures, wiretap orders, pen register orders and other court orders.

"We want to go even further. We believe it's your right to know what kinds of requests and how many each government is making of us and other companies," Salgado writes. "However, the US Department of Justice contends that US law does not allow us to share information about some national security requests that we might receive. Specifically, the US government argues that we cannot share information about the requests we receive (if any) under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But you deserve to know."

The Transparency Report generally discusses requests by the government to take down information as well as other information requests. However, there is also a rise in the number of user data requests from governments. The report discloses the number of requests received from each government in six-month periods. In 2012, user data requests from all governments increased from 21,389 in the first six months to 25,879 in the second half of the year.

In the same period, user data requests from the United States totaled 8,438 for the first six months, and 10,918 requests in the latter six months of 2012. Some information for the first six months has been provided in the report. Google received 10,918 requests for 21,683 user accounts from the US Government during the first six months of 2013. Eighty-three percent of those requests produced some data the government was able to use.

A breakdown of the user data requests for the US government includes all categories where user data were requested. For instance, pen register orders accounted for 207 requests in 332 user accounts, of which 89 percent of requests produced data. And seven wiretap orders for seven user accounts were requested, of which 100 percent offered data for the government.

Data for user data requests from the US government were more detailed - and greater in number - than most other governments. In the first six months of 2013, Google received 2,311 user data requests from 3,079 user accounts from Germany. In those six months, 48 percent of requests produced some data. User data requests in the United Kingdom included 1,274 requests from 1,818 accounts, where 67 percent of those requests brought back usable data.

Google desires to provide more transparency where possible. Most of the efforts concentrate on the US government, though Google is taking action with other governments around the world as well.

"Earlier this year, we brought a federal case to assert that we do indeed have the right to shine more light on the FISA process. In addition, we recently wrote a letter of support for two pieces of legislation currently proposed in the US Congress," wrote Salgado. "And we're asking governments around the world to uphold international legal agreements that respect the laws of different countries and guarantee standards for due process are met."