Against a backdrop of new surveillance programs being uncovered in New Zealand and allegations of the NSA and GCHQ’s penetration of Deutsche Telekom in Germany, Google yesterday published its biannual Transparency Report for the first half of 2014. Google’s numbers reflect not only a continually growing trend of law enforcement and government request for data, but also that more countries are joining the fray, with nine countries requesting data from Google for the first time.
“Despite these revelations, we have seen some countries expand their surveillance authorities in an attempt to reach service providers outside their borders. Others are considering similar measures,” said Richard Salgado, Google legal director, law enforcement and information security. “The efforts of the U.S. Department of Justice and other countries to improve diplomatic cooperation will help reduce the perceived need for these laws, but much more remains to be done.”
Government requests for data from Google spiked 15 percent during the first six months of the year (31,698 requests compared to 27,477 for the previous reporting period). More than 48,000 accounts were impacted by these requests, that number climbing as well from 42,648 for the last half of 2013.
“Governments have a legitimate and important role in fighting crime and investigating national security threats,” Salgado said. “To maintain public confidence in both government and technology, we need legislative reform that ensures surveillance powers are transparent, reasonably scoped by law, and subject to independent oversight.”
Like Dropbox, which published its Transparency Report last Thursday, Google tossed its considerable weight behind support for the USA FREEDOM Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Both pieces of legislation aim to rein in the intelligence community’s spying and dragnet surveillance of Americans’ data without cause or court order. Companies such as Google, Facebook and others that harvest and profit from user-supplied data, also pine for additional leeway when it comes to transparency. These companies want to be free to share more insight into National Security Letters they receive as well as requests from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court; specific reporting about such requests are clamped down by the government.
“There is a growing consensus in support of these reforms,” Salgado said. “In the remaining days of this session, Congress has a chance to pass historic legislation that will help restore trust that has been lost. We urge them to seize upon this opportunity.”
While the trending is skyward for government requests for data, the opposite is true for the number of times Google complies with orders for data. Peaking at 76 percent in 2010, Google reports that it has steadily pushed back against such requests and for the current reporting period, complied with 65 percent of requests.
More than 12,500 requests came from the United States government and law enforcement, affecting data on 21,576 accounts; Google reported that it complied in 84 percent of those occasions, however. Germany and France made more than 3,000 requests each with Google complying with data in 59 percent and 48 percent of those requests respectively.
The first time requesters were: Albania, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Kosovo, Luxembourg, Maldives, Namibia and Nepal.