Google Transparency: Surveillance by Government Hits New High

Wednesday, 14 Nov 2012 01:58 PM

By Dale Eisinger

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Cloud computing and mobile giant Google released the latest edition of its transparency report Tuesday and the conclusion is that governments around the world are turning increasingly to the company for information on its users.

Dorothy Chou, Google’s Senior Policy Analyst, who posted the blog, writes, “one trend has become clear: Government surveillance is on the rise.”

With the David Petraeus scandal unfolding in a world of digital secrecy and investigation, it’s never been clearer how easy it is for government entities to access user data. Google itself stores massive amounts of user information, including email addresses, messages, passwords, user locations, IP addresses and other data. Petraeus’ undoing had to do with a secret Gmail account he and his mistress Paula Broadwell had set up.

As for surveillance, the numbers are clear.

In the first half of 2012, there were 20,938 requests for Google user data by government agencies around the world; comprised in those requests were for 34,614 specific separate accounts. Google began its transparency report in 2010. Since that time, the number of worldwide government requests for user data have nearly doubled. In late 2009, there were only 12,539 requests.

The United States government accounts for the largest number of data requests, at 7,969 individual requests for 16,281 specific user accounts. Google complied with 90 percent of the requests, including those “on behalf of other governments pursuant to mutual legal assistance treaties and other diplomatic mechanisms.”

“The information we disclose is only an isolated sliver showing how governments interact with the Internet,” Chou writes.

In addition to requests for user data, government requests to remove content from Google services has increased by about 70 percent since the last half of 2011.

For the last six-month period of 2011, there were 1,048 requests to remove content; between January and June of this year there were 1,791 content removal requests. This is the sixth edition of the Transparency Report Google has released since 2010.

“Our hope is that over time, more data will bolster public debate about how we can best keep the Internet free and open,” Chou writes.

Google is a member of the Digital Due Process Coalition. The mission of the coalition is essentially to respond to legal issues of privacy and data usage as technologies evolve and consumers shape communication habits around that technology. Other notable members include AOL, Apple, AT&T, Facebook, and Twitter.

The Digital Due Process coalition has sought for years now to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which was enacted in 1986. Since then, the coalition argues, the habits of electronic communications users have changed drastically, outpacing the law.

“The time for an update toe ECPA is now,” they write.

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