MINNEAPOLIS — Google fielded a record number of government and law enforcement requests for private user data last year, according to a recent report.
Google’s latest transparency report, published on July 18, revealed that the Internet giant received 40,677 requests for private user data from courts and governments around the world in the second half of 2015, up from 35,365 requests in the first half of the year.
“Usage of our services have increased every year, and so have the user data request numbers,” noted the report’s authors.
The report also shows that during the second half of 2015, governments and law enforcement agencies requested information from 81,311 accounts on Google services, up from 69,908 in the first half of the year. However, a FAQ page cautions that “[t]here are several reasons why the numbers of ‘users/accounts’ in user information requests” may be overinflated, like counting government requests for accounts which don’t exist.
Worldwide, 12,523 requests for user data came from the U.S. government and law enforcement agencies. Not only is the United States the country most likely to demand user data, the U.S. government successfully obtains user data in 79 percent of requests.
Germany (7,491 requests), France (4,174 requests), the United Kingdom (3,497 requests), and India (3,265 requests) round out the list of countries most likely to demand user data from Google.
In many ways, Google is a trendsetter when it comes to revealing details about government requests.
“Since Google’s earliest efforts, the tech company has come to see itself as a pioneer for transparency promotion, petitioning the government for permission to include more information within these reports, specifically after the Edward Snowden leaks in 2013,” noted Lucy Schouten, a staff writer at The Christian Science Monitor, on Tuesday.
In a blog post that accompanied the report, Richard Salgado, Google’s legal director for law enforcement and information security matters, wrote: “Google is proud to have led the charge on publishing these reports, helping shed light on government surveillance laws and practices across the world.”
According to the annual “Who Has Your Back?” report from The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties NGO, over a dozen major corporations issue transparency reports or at least reveal some information on user data requests, including social networks like Facebook and Tumblr, and Dropbox, a popular data backup service.
Salgado noted that in addition to the uptick in user data requests, Google threw its support behind privacy protections as well. He wrote:
“Earlier this year, President Obama signed the Judicial Redress Act into law, which Google strongly supported. The law creates a process for extending procedural protections under the Privacy Act of 1974 to non-U.S. persons. This shift helps address concerns about the ability of non-U.S. persons to redress grievances concerning data collected and stored by the U.S. government under U.S. law.”
Because the U.S. is a leader both in the technology industry and in requests for users’ data, protections are especially important here, Salgada noted, adding:
“Indeed, the distinctions that U.S. privacy and surveillance laws make between U.S. and non-U.S. persons are increasingly obsolete in a world where communications primarily take place over a global medium: the Internet.”
But he warned there was still much work to be done before users can feel totally shielded from overzealous invasions of their digital privacy.
“Google looks forward to working on the future rules and standards in countries around the world that, like the Judicial Redress Act, respect the rights of users wherever they may be,” Salgado concluded.
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