Google Releases Transparency Report Detailing Government Access To Users Data

Google has released new data for their Transparency Report, which showed that governments’ request for users’ information continued to increase in the second half of 2012, according to a message on their blog.

Governments and courts around the world regularly ask tech and communication companies like Google for data about users accounts and products. The Transparency Report from Google primarily discloses statistics about demands in criminal investigations or criminal matters. Google has been sharing this data since 2010 in order to help people understand the scope and authority of their governments in terms of obtaining user data.

For the first time, Google is including a breakdown of the kinds of legal processes that US government offices use to oblige tech companies to give users information.

For July to December 2012, 68 percent of the requests were coursed through subpoenas, which are mostly requests for user-identifying information and typically do not need judges.

Search warrants issued by judges under the ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act) comprise 22 percent of the requests. These are mainly for cases that exhibit ‘probable cause’, where the government deems that information vital to a criminal investigation is presently in the place to be searched.

Meanwhile, the remaining 10 percent fall under those requests issued through a court order by judges working under the ECPA or other processes that cannot be categorized.

According to Google, user data requests of all kinds have increased by over 70 percent since 2009, and they have received a total of 21,389 requests for information about 33,634 users for the second half of 2012. This is based on the overall trends for all countries that Google has included in the Transparency Report. It is important to note that while the company aims to be as accurate as possible, the data cannot be 100 percent complete since the report does not include the countries from which Google has received less than 30 requests for users data relating to criminal matters.

Among the countries included in the Transparency Report, aside from the US, are the UK, France, Australia, Canada, Singapore, Germany and Russia.

In a statement on Google’s blog Richard Salgado, Legal Director for Law Enforcement and Information Security at Google, says “We’ll keep looking for more ways to inform you about government requests and how we handle them. We hope more companies and governments themselves join us in this effort by releasing similar kinds of data.”

Check out the data here, as well as some FAQ’s related to the Transparency Report.