Google, Twitter weigh in on government requests for your data

Citing an increase in government requests for on-line information about their users, both Google and Twitter released statements on Monday that outline their policies and describe how they’ve handled such requests over the last year.

The reports mark the fifth anniversary of “Data Privacy Day,” a campaign by industry groups and civil liberties watchdog groups that aims to educate people about their rights and what many perceive as the shortcomings in laws that govern how government agencies can get access to individuals’ online files, such as email or posts on YouTube and Twitter.

“It’s important for law enforcement agencies to pursue illegal activity and keep the public safe,” Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, wrote in a blog post Monday. “But it’s just as important that laws protect you against overly broad requests for your personal information.”

Google supports updating federal law to provide the same protections to online data that people now have for documents they might store in their desk at home, Drummond wrote.

The company reported last week that government requests for user data have increased by more than 70 percent since 2009.  In his latest post, Drummond described how Google handles such requests from governments around the world — while Google complied with about two-thirds of the requests it received last year, it sometimes refuses or pushes to narrow the request.  He also announced a new section of its annual report that answers questions about Google’s policies.

Twitter, meanwhile, issued its own report that shows an increase in government requests for information about users’ posts, as well as requests that Twitter take down certain posts that violate local laws. Twitter says it doesn’t comply with every request. While outlining its policies, the company said in a blog post that, “these growing inquiries can have a serious chilling effect on free expression – and real privacy implications.”

Twitter’s legal policy manager, Jeremy Kessel, added: “It’s our continued hope that providing greater insight into this information helps in at least two ways: first, to raise public awareness about these invasive requests; second, to enable policy makers to make more informed decisions.”


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