Google Transparency Report: More government requests for user data than ever

There are more government requests for Google user data than ever, with the number doubling in the past three years, the company said today as it released its latest Transparency Report.

Since Google began reporting the numbers in 2010, the number of worldwide requests shot up from 12,539 requests in the last half of 2009 to 25,879 through June of this year. The United States led the way again in this latest report, making 83 percent of the requests, or more than 10,000, for user information in the first half of 2013.

In unveiling this latest report, Google referred to the ongoing controversy over massive surveillance by the National Security Agency. The scope of NSA spying was first revealed over the summer after former government tech contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents to the media. While Google’s other charts show a breakdown of what kind of requests for user data it has received, one of its graphics (see below) was obviously included to make a point.

One chart, titled “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests,” is completely blacked out. Underneath the title is a disclaimer that reads: “The U.S. government contends that we cannot share this information.” Google and other tech giants — facing the challenge of retaining their users’ trust amid revelations that the government is routinely collecting information about those users — are pushing to be allowed to break out the number of FISA requests they receive. In fact, their most recent push involves asking the government to reveal their secret arguments against the companies’ ability to disclose the numbers, the Mercury News’ Brandon Bailey reports.

“We believe it’s your right to know what kinds of requests and how many each government is making of us and other companies,” Google says in a blog post. “Our promise to you is to continue to make this report robust, to defend your information from overly broad government requests, and to push for greater transparency around the world.” Other tech companies release similar transparency reports. As the Merc’s Pat May wrote, Apple released its report about a week ago.

One advocacy group reacted to Google’s latest report by stressing the importance of updating the ECPA. “Today’s Transparency Report from Google, which shows a sharp increase in government demands for user data, provides the latest in a long list of reasons why Congress should act now to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act,” said the Center for Democracy & Technology in a press release. As we’ve written, the tech industry and others have called for updating the 1980s-era ECPA to require the government to obtain warrants before accessing electronic communications.

Photo at top by Patrick Tehan/Mercury News

Levi Sumagaysay Levi Sumagaysay (4175 Posts)

Levi Sumagaysay is editor of the combined SiliconBeat and Good Morning Silicon Valley. She also helps take care of SiliconValley.com, the Mercury News tech website. Email: lsumagaysay@bayareanewsgroup.com