Google complied with 93 percent of the requests for user data that it received from U.S. law enforcement agencies through the first six months of this year. In the latest update to its Transparency Report, Google for the first time not only disclosed the number of requests that it receives, but also the number of user accounts that those requests encompass.
The data disclosed by Google on Tuesday provides an unusual, if incomplete, picture of the amount and kind of requests that the company gets from law enforcement agencies, not only in the U.S., but around the world. From January through June of 2011, Google and YouTube received 5,950 requests for users data from law enforcement agencies in the U.S. alone, and those requests were seeking data on 11,057 users or accounts. Google began publishing some of this data last year, but this is the first time it has disclosed the raw number of users and accounts affected by those requests.
“The number of requests we receive for user account information as part of criminal investigations has increased year after year. The increase isn’t surprising, since each year we offer more products and services, and we have a larger number of users,” the company said in the notes accompanying the data.
“The statistics here reflect the number of law enforcement agency requests for information we receive at Google and YouTube, and, for the period from July-December 2010 and onward, the number of those requests where we produced at least some responsive information. We didn’t necessarily include requests that were addressed to the wrong Google company. We review each request to make sure that it complies with both the spirit and the letter of the law, and we may refuse to produce information or try to narrow the request in some cases.”
No other country came anywhere close to issuing as many requests as agencies in the U.S. did, with India claiming second place with 1,739 requests covering 2,439 users or accounts. Google also detailed the number of requests it received from law enforcement regarding the removal of a piece of content for one reason or another. The company got 92 such requests in the first half of this year and complied, at least in part, with 63 percent of them. Many of the removal requests were for content that was thought to be defamatory, but others were for privacy or security reasons or for copyright infringement.
In a blog post about the data release, Dorothy Chou, a senior policy analyst at Google, said that the company intends the data to give users a picture of how the privacy and security laws are being used.
“All too often, policy that affects how information flows on the Internet is created in the absence of empirical data. But by showing traffic patterns and disruptions to our services, and by sharing how many government requests for content removal and user data we receive from around the world, we hope to offer up some metrics to contribute to a public conversation about the laws that influence how people communicate online,” Chou wrote.
” We believe that providing this level of detail highlights the need to modernize laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which regulates government access to user information and was written 25 years ago—long before the average person had ever heard of email. Yet at the end of the day, the information that we’re disclosing offers only a limited snapshot. We hope others join us in the effort to provide more transparency, so we’ll be better able to see the bigger picture of how regulatory environments affect the entire web.”