Google: government data demands up 150% in five years

The numbers are even higher in the United States, which also has the largest number of data requests

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
September 15, 2014
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Here's something that may surprise you: your government, no matter where you live, wants to track you on the Internet. Shocking, I know.

Google released its tenth transparency report on Monday and while the numbers are to be expected, that does not stop them from being disheartening.

Since the company started doing this all the way back in 2009, way before most people probably even cared about being spied on by their government, overall requests by governments for data has increased 150%. It has gone up 15% in just the last year. And the numbers are even worse in the United States, where Google has seen increased of 250% in five years, and 19% since the same time last year.

That does not even include demands for user information under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and through National Security Letters (NSLs), which means that the numbers are even higher, at least in the U.S.

The report showed that the U.S. had, by far, the most data requests, with over 12,000 requests. It nearly quadrupled the country with the second most: Germany, which has 3,338 requests. The only other countries that had over 1,000 were France (3,002), India (2.794), Italy (1,108) and Singapore (1.086).

Also, the U.S. had the second largest percentage of requests where data was produced, with 84%. The only one higher was Finland with 94%, but on only 17 requests. 

The company seemed a little surprised at these increases, especially given the amount of awareness, and outrage, there is ever since the Edward Snowden info dump last year.

"This increase in government demands comes against a backdrop of ongoing revelations about government surveillance programs," Richard Salgado, Legal Director, Law Enforcement and Information Security at Google, wrote. "Despite these revelations, we have seen some countries expand their surveillance authorities in an attempt to reach service providers outside their borders."

For its part, Google makes sure to note that it understands why government are requesting this data, and that, in some circumstances, the requests are legitimate. But it also has some advice for countries around the world who want data: make this process as open as possible.

"Governments have a legitimate and important role in fighting crime and investigating national security threats. To maintain public confidence in both government and technology, we need legislative reform that ensures surveillance powers are transparent, reasonably scoped by law, and subject to independent oversight,"  Salgado wrote.

That means passing legislation like the USA FREEDOM Act, which would stop the government from bulk collecting data, and make the process transparent and "would create stronger oversight and accountability mechanisms."

The company is also urging the passage of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which would make it so the government had to obtain a search warrant before collecting a person’s data.

These measure, Google says, are bi-partisan and supported by a lot of people. And they would ease at least some of the legitimate fears people have over their data being collected.

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