Government requests for Google user data up 25%

Steven Loeb · January 23, 2013 · Short URL:

Subpeonas, search warrants drive data requests in the U.S., and the around the world

If you've ever been suspicious that your government is interested in your private data, you're not being paranoid. Not only do governments request this data, the amount they are looking for is actually on the rise.

Between July through December 2012, Google received 21,389 requests for information about 33,634 users around the world, it was revealed in a blog post Wednesday. That's up 2% from the 20,983 requests in the first half of 2012. 

But the increase year-to-year is even greater. A look at the full report shows that, there were 42,327 requests in 2012, up 25% from 34,001 in 2011.  

As you might have suspected, or feared, the United States government far outpaced the rest of the world in the number of requests with 8,438 alone in the second half of 2012 alone. That accounts for over 39% of the total number of requests globally. 

The number of requests made by the United States government are also increasing. In 2011, there were 12,271 total requests, 5,950 in the first half and 6,321 in the second half. There were a total of 16,407 requests in 2012, 7,969 in the first half and 8,438 in the second. This adds up to a growth of over 33% year-over-year.

The requests break down into subpeonas, search warrants and others.

Of the requests, 5.748 of them, or 68%, came from subpeonas. Richard Salgado, Google's legal director for law enforcement and information security, wrote that these type of requests, which are issued under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”), "are the easiest to get because they typically don’t involve judges." 

1,896, or 22% of the requests, were through ECPA search warrants, which have to be issued by a judge and are based on "probable cause" that a crime has been committed.

"The remaining 10 percent were mostly court orders issued under ECPA by judges or other processes that are difficult to categorize," said Salgado.

There is some news that will make privacy adovcates happy: while the amount of requests has gone up by more than 70% since 2009, the percentage that Google has been complying with has gone down.

In 2010, when Google first started providing information about the percentage of user data requests they complied with, the global percentage has dropped from 76% to 66%. In the United States, it has gone from 94% to 88%.

While previous Transparency Reports have included new data on content removals, Google has decided to release those numbers separately going forward, and will be releasing that data in the near future. 

"We'll keep looking for more ways to inform you about government requests and how we handle them," Salgado wrote. "We hope more companies and governments themselves join us in this effort by releasing similar kinds of data."

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