Government Requests for Google User Data Continue to Climb

Government Requests for Google User Data Continue to Climb

The Google transparency report shows an increase in user requests from the government but a drop in compliance from the company.

While the number of requests for user information that Google receives from governments around the world continues to rise–climbing by 120 percent in the last four years–the company is turning over some data  in fewer cases as time goes on. Google received more than 27,000 requests for user information from global law enforcement agencies in the last six months of 2013 and provided some user data in 64 percent of those cases.

The new report from Google includes information on requests for user data from governments around the world, as well as new data on National Security Letters sent by the United States government to Google. In the second half of 2013, Google received between 0-999 NSLs, the same range it reported in all of the previous periods, going back to January 2009. However, those letters affected more users or accounts this time, between 1000-1999, up from 0-999 in the first six months of 2013.

The U.S. government only allows companies to report NSLs in ranges of 1,000. The Google transparency report also includes data on orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, but that information is subject to a six-month delay, so there is no data for June through December 2013. In the first six months of last year, Google received 0-999 content request and the same number of non-content requests.

As usual, the U.S. was the largest contributor to the volume of requests for user data that Google reported, sending 10,574 requests, covering 18,254 accounts. France was second, with 2,750 requests for information about 3,378 accounts. Germany, India, the U.K. and Brazil followed.

“Government requests for user information in criminal cases have increased by about 120 percent since we first began publishing these numbers in 2009. Though our number of users has grown throughout the time period, we’re also seeing more and more governments start to exercise their authority to make requests,” Richard Salgado, Legal Director, Law Enforcement and Information Security at Google, wrote in a blog post on the report.

“We consistently push back against overly broad requests for your personal information, but it’s also important for laws to explicitly protect you from government overreach. That’s why we’re working alongside eight other companies to push for surveillance reform, including more transparency. We’ve all been sharing best practices about how to report the requests we receive, and as a result our Transparency Report now includes governments that made less than 30 requests during a six-month reporting period, in addition to those that made 30+ requests.”

When Google first began reporting the percentage of user data requests that it complies with in some way in 2010, the company reported providing some information in 76 percent of cases. That number has decreased steadily in the years since, down to the 64 percent Google complied with in some way in the second half of 2013.

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