The most recent Google report released more information than ever before about government information requests. Image: Flickr / mjmonty / CC-BY

Twice a year, Google releases a report detailing government requests for private user information. The Google Transparency Report serves two purposes: informational and as a highlight to the need to modernize the laws governing privacy of electronic data.

The raw numbers

According to the Google Transparency Report numbers, The U.S. Government submitted 5,950 requests for private user data on 11,057 accounts. Compared to the second half of last year, this is an increase of 4,600 requests, 29 percent. Google complied “wholly or partially” with 93 percent of these requests for information. There were also 92 requests for data removal covering 757 pieces of content. Sixty-three percent of these requests were complied with. The Canadian government made 50 data requests covering 75 accounts, the Mexican government made 48 data requests covering 73 accounts. A full accounting of government requests can be found on the full Google Transparency Report page.

How Google complies with requests

The majority of data requests that Google receives are requests to take down material that the government finds incorrect or offensive, or for personal information that would be useful to law enforcement investigations. Google, as a matter of policy, complies with all requests that are executed legally and within the bounds of the Google Terms of Service. In each country, these requests are handled differently. While Google does not specifically release the type of requests, other companies do. Court-ordered, warranted requests account for 65,000 of the 90,000 information requests that Verizon wireless receives each year, and the remainder are emergency requests, for which there is no court order.

Questioning the ECPA

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act was originally passed in 1986. This 25-year-old law still regulates all government access to confidential electronic communications and information. The ECPA allows the government to request certain electronic communications for the purposes of law enforcement. The Act has also been interpreted to protect the privacy of users. E-mail messages have a questionable status under ECPA, and a final decision on this has yet to be rendered by the Supreme Court. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as several other groups have called for an update or re-writing of the law.


The Christian Science Monitor:
Official Google Blog:
The Guardian:
Tech News World:
US Code, Electronic Communications Privacy Act:$$xa$$busc18.wais&start=3919965&SIZE=21304&TYPE=TEXT

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