Google: US data requests have more than tripled since 2009

Filed Under: Featured, Google, Law & order, Privacy

Google logoHere's a non-shocker: worldwide government requests for data have more than doubled since 2009, while requests from the US have tripled, Google said in its latest transparency report.

And that, mind you, is only the number of requests that Google's allowed to publish, Google legal director Richard Salgado said in a blog posting on Thursday:

Since we began sharing these figures with you in 2010, requests from governments for user information have increased by more than 100 percent. This comes as usage of our services continues to grow, but also as more governments have made requests than ever before. And these numbers only include the requests we’re allowed to publish.

The company posted four slides to highlight the US government's activities over the past four years.

Three of the slides depict the extent of attempted government surveillance that Google's allowed to share, while one slide, devoted to requests under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), is entirely redacted.

Why is it redacted? Because neither Google nor other companies, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, for example - are allowed to disclose the number of classified customer data requests they receive under FISA.

Here are some of the numbers from the recent transparency report:

  • In the second half of 2009, data requests coming from the US numbered 3,580. By the first half of 2013, that number had shot up to 10,918: an increase of about 205%.
  • Requests are up globally, but not nearly as steeply as the number coming from the US. In fact, the US's requests accounted for more than a third of the 25,879 requests Google received worldwide. That's more than double the worldwide total - 12,539 - of the number of requests all governments sent in for data on Google customers in 2009.
  • The US generates more data requests than the total combined number of requests coming from the top five countries after the US - India, Germany, France, the UK, and Brazil.
  • About 80% of all requests made by the US are valid, forcing Google to hand "some data" back to the requesting federal law enforcement or intelligence agency.

Google has for the first time also given a breakdown of the kinds of requests it receives. Whereas previous reports just divided the requests up into subpoenas, search warrants and an amorphous category called "Other", Google in its most recent report distinguishes among wiretaps, pen registers and disclosures made in connection with life-threatening emergencies.

Google also provides explanations for the legal authority behind each type of order.

While that's an expanded amount of detail, Google's still not happy and wants to disclose more.

Salgado had these words about the US powers that be:

We want to go even further. We believe it’s your right to know what kinds of requests and how many each government is making of us and other companies. However, the U.S. Department of Justice contends that U.S. law does not allow us to share information about some national security requests that we might receive. Specifically, the U.S. government argues that we cannot share information about the requests we receive (if any) under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But you deserve to know.

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2 Responses to Google: US data requests have more than tripled since 2009

  1. Stephen H · 259 days ago

    One wonders whether other jurisdictions have FISA equivalents, but keeping secrecy by saying "you can't even discuss the existence of these data requests, let alone the number or type".

    Of course, the word "request" is in itself somewhat disingenuous - it's like being "requested" to get out of the vehicle, please.

  2. Andrew · 259 days ago

    you can bet the UK government has made such requests as have the US but as a people of this world we are one of many billions that could stand up and defy governments and put them out of business on a permanent basis. It only takes one rebellious person to start it

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.