Government requests for information about users in criminal investigations have risen by more than 120 percent since 2009 when Google began tallying such figures, according to the latest global transparency report issued by the company.
“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 of law enforcement and information security at Google, wrote in a March 27 post on the Google Official Blog.
“While we’ve always known how important transparency is when it comes to government requests, the events of the past year have underscored just how urgent the issue is,” he wrote. “From being the first company to disclose information about National Security Letters to fighting for the ability to publish more about FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] requests, we’ve continually advocated for your right to know.”
The latest Google transparency report, which is the ninth such document issued by the company since it began publishing such statistics, details the number of government requests that Google received for user information in criminal investigations during the second half of 2013.
According to the report, Google received 10,574 such requests from the United States government during the period and provided at least some information in 83 percent of those cases.
France made the second-highest number of requests in the period—2,750—of which 51 percent were at least partially fulfilled.
Germany had the third-highest number of requests at 2,660, of which 40 percent were fulfilled.
The total number of requests for information for governments around the world was 27,477, of which 64 percent were at least partially granted, according to 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,” wrote Salgado. “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.”
As part of the latest transparency report announcement, Google has also created a video to explain how the company responds to search warrants in the U.S., after hearing many requests for more information about the process, wrote Salgado. “We apply the same rigorous standards presented in this video to every request we receive, regardless of type.”
Google publishes the reports to help users around the world know when and how governments request user information online, he explained.
The number of government requests has risen substantially since January 2013, when Google announced it had experienced a more than 70 percent increase in requests from governments worldwide for information about its users and their possible criminal activities, according to an earlier eWEEK report. For the six-month period ending Dec. 31, 2012, Google received 21,389 government requests for information about 33,634 users—including 8,438 requests, involving 14,791 users, by the United States government.
Google has been compiling and releasing the reports since 2010 to keep the process transparent for users of its services so they can have insights into what is done with the data stored by Google.
In February 2014, Google moved to ask Congress to update the nation’s privacy laws so that the government would have to seek warrants when attempting to access user communications.
In early 2013, Google donated $3.7 million to two organizations that are working to make government data more open, available and transparent to citizens in the United States and around the world. Google.org awarded $2.1 million to the nonprofit, nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, and $1.6 million to mySociety, a U.K.-based group. The money was given to foster the open availability of information so that people can be better informed.