Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Requests for Google User Account Info by Governments Are on the Rise

Google said today that the overall number of requests it has received from government agencies around the world for information on the accounts of its users has nearly doubled in the last three years.

The disclosure comes in the latest update to Google’s Transparency Report, the running tally the Internet giant keeps on such metrics as traffic to and availability of its different services around the world, requests to remove content, and requests by law enforcement and other government agencies for information culled from user accounts.

“Since we began sharing these figures with you in 2010, requests from governments for user information have increased by more than 100 percent,” Google’s Richard Salgado, legal director for law enforcement and information security wrote in a corporate blog post. “This comes as usage of our services continues to grow, but also as more governments have made requests than ever before.”

In the six-month period ending in June of this year, Google’s data shows that the total number of requests for information reached 25,879. That compares with 13,424 such requests in the same period of 2010, for an increase of 93 percent. During the first six months of 2012, the number was 20,938, amounting to a 24 percent increase in a single year.

In the U.S., Google said it received 10,918 requests from agencies at all levels of government, including federal, state and local, during the first six months of the year. This is up from 7,969 in the first six months of 2012, for an increase of 37 percent, and a 155 percent increase from the first six months of 2010, when Google first started tracking the data. The data includes requests that come to U.S. agencies on behalf of law enforcement bodies in other countries subject to mutual assistance treaties.

Of those requests, Google said more than two-thirds of them — 68 percent — were subpoenas or formal legal requests issued by a court or as part of a legal investigation. Another 22 percent were warrants issued by police agencies. The remaining nine percent were other types of orders.

Google said it would like to go further, specifically to spell out how many National Security Letters and other requests it receives that are covered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. These requests are secret and, by and large, Google is prohibited by law from even discussing their existence. The company has been involved, though, in an ongoing argument with the government over how much information it should be able to disclose about them.

“We believe it’s your right to know what kinds of requests and how many each government is making of us and other companies,” Salgado wrote. “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.”

Google has been involved in a complicated legal fight to get permission to disclose more of this information. It and other companies, including Microsoft, have basically sued the government.

It’s the first meaningful update to Google’s transparency report since the first revelations by Edward Snowden about PRISM and other surveillance efforts by the National Security Agency came to light.

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google