Google says users deserve to know more about surge in gov't data requests

The US government is responsible for over a third of the 26,000 requests Google received in the first half of 2013

By Lucian Constantin, IDG News Service |  Security

The number of government requests for user information received by Google has doubled since 2010, not including requests made under the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which the company is not allowed to disclose.

"This comes as usage of our services continues to grow, but also as more governments have made requests than ever before," Richard Salgado, Google's legal director for law enforcement and information security said in a blog post. "And these numbers only include the requests we're allowed to publish."

When it released its first Transparency Report during the first half of 2010 Google said it had received around 12,500 requests for user data from governments around the world between July and December 2009. According to new data released Thursday, between January and June 2013, the company received 25,879 requests for user data, 11,000 of them from the U.S. government.

In fact, during the first half of the year, the U.S. government made more such requests than the other countries top six countries combined. Those countries were India, Germany, France, the U.K. and Brazil. The U.S. government also had the highest success rate, with 83 percent of its requests producing some data from Google.

For greater transparency, the company also decided to break down U.S. government requests by the legal processes that produced them, revealing that 68 percent were based on subpoenas, 22 percent on search warrants, 6 percent on other court orders, 2 percent on pen register orders and 1 percent were emergency disclosure requests.

"We want to go even further," Salgado said. "We believe it's your right to know what kinds of requests and how many each government is making of us and other companies."

"However, the U.S. Department of Justice contends that U.S. law does not allow us to share information about some national security requests that we might receive," he said. "Specifically, the U.S. government argues that we cannot share information about the requests we receive (if any) under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). But you deserve to know."

In September, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook filed motions with the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to allow them to share with their customers the number of requests they received under FISA.

The petition comes on the heels of media reports in recent months about mass surveillance programs run by the U.S. National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies, some of which are reportedly based on cooperation with Internet technology companies and telecommunication providers.

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