Google Handles Record Number of Government Requests for Data

Google updated its Transparency Report, reporting a record number of government requests for data, and that it received at least one National Security Letter during the second half of 2015.

Google fielded a record number of government requests for user data during the first half of 2016, according to its updated Transparency Report.

It was also able to report that it received at least one National Security Letter during the six months between July and December 2015.

“Pursuant to the USA Freedom Act, the FBI lifted a gag restriction on an NSL issued in the second half of 2015,” said Google director of law enforcement and information security Richard Salgado. “To reflect this, we have updated the range of NSLs received in that period — July to December 2015 — from 0-499 to 1-499.”

The federal government, usually through the FBI, issues NSLs in order to collect evidence in cases affecting national security. They contain gag orders preventing the recipients from acknowledging receipt until they are lifted.

Google also said that requests for account information made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) are up at least 5,000 requests from its last report to between 21,000 and 21,499. Under the act, companies are not allowed to report specific numbers of requests, only ranges.

As for government requests for user data, Google reported that those are up sharply. Google fielded 44,943 requests covering close to 77,000 accounts, and provided data in 64 percent of those requests. While Google’s compliance is flat from its last report, the number of requests is up from 40,677 covering the second half of 2015.

Breaking it down, Google said it received 14,168 requests from the U.S., and complied in providing data in 79 percent of those requests affecting more than 30,000 accounts. Germany, France, India and the United Kingdom round out the top five countries making user data requests of Google.

“As we have noted in the past, when we receive a request for user information, we review it carefully and only provide information within the scope and authority of the request,” Salgado said. “Before producing data in response to a government request, we make sure it strictly follows the law, for example to compel us to disclose content in criminal cases we require the government use a search warrant, and that it complies with Google’s strict policies (to prevent overreach that can compromise users’ privacy).”

Google and other giant technology companies have struggled since the Snowden leaks to expand how much information they can share about such requests. The government has continued to clamp down on how much sharing is allowed, despite the tech companies’ desire to distance themselves from being associated with government surveillance efforts and excessive law enforcement requests for data.

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