According to a report Google released today, U.S. government agencies asked for data on specific users 18 percent more often during the first half of 2011 than the first half of 2010.
Google fully or partially complied with 93 percent of the 5,590 requests for data covering more than 11,000 different accounts.
Most "cover requests in criminal matters," according to the section of Google's Transparency Report that summarizes the type and number of requests from the countries in which Google operates shows the U.S. is at the top of the list, followed (distantly) by India, France, the U.K. and Germany.
The user-data request list only counts requests from law enforcement agencies to Google and YouTube, but doesn't indicate what might cause Google to comply, partially comply or fail to comply with such requests.
Nevertheless, the No. 2 data sponge – India – only had 70 percent of its requests filled. France got 48 percent of its requests fulfilled; the U.K. got 64 percent and Germany got 67 percent.
China itself, which which Google has had tussles in the past over access to user data, didn't make the list, though Hong Kong, which is part of China, did.
Hong Kong made 123 requests for user data, 42 percent of which Google fulfilled.
The data being supplied can be anything from the name of an account to the searches that person made to activity in a Gmail account.
Google's FAQ said its policy is to supply information for criminal cases and, sometimes, if emergency access to the list of a customer's favorite porn sites or Google-stalking tendencies are requested by a government official who wants to use the information to save the user's life.
Google doesn't mention how often this might happen except for within a few of the more unrealistic episodes of "24."
The legal authority of officials doing the asking, plus the types, number of users involved and process of requesting the information is so different from incident to incident and country to country, that Google's FAQ throws up its hands at being able to parse out the usage data to try to form a conclusion or even a summary of the criteria Google uses to determine if it should give out private info or not in a particular case.
Clearly the usual response is to hand over the information, however.
Who is requesting the information and in what volumes is another unanswered question. Are local Sherriff's deputies phoning up for quick reports on Uncle Amos' searches to figure out if the senile old fool is out looking for trouble at the Red Lantern Inn? Or down the American Legion Hall playing bingo?
Somehow I doubt it. Some local or state police agencies probably make the requests. Most are almost certainly from the FBI or various DHS affiliates.
The data transactions are also, apparently, often managed without warrants, which should be, to companies like Google, what usernames and passwords are to Gmail: those requesting service should not be given access to anything even moderately private without the proper credentials.
Might want to look up something on that topic, Google. Try this search; I'm sure it will get you what you need to know.
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