Google: Government requests for user information doubled since 2009

<i>This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.</i>

Google updated its transparency report Thursday, saying government requests for information about the company’s users have doubled in 3½ years.

Since 2010, the Mountain View, Calif., tech giant has updated its transparency report -- a website with information on user data requests made by governments around the world -- twice a year.

The latest update is notable as it comes following Edward Snowden’s leaks on government surveillance. Google said that in the first half of 2013 it received nearly 26,000 requests for user information, double the amount in the second half of 2009.


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Google emphasizes that those numbers reflect only the government requests that it is allowed to discuss publicly. Other requests, pertinent to national security, are not included in the report. Google said it wants to be able to share that information as well with users.

“Specifically, the U.S. government argues that we cannot share information about the requests we receive (if any) under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” the company said in a blog post Thursday. “But you deserve to know.”

In the post, Google included a graphic with four charts about the government requests it receives. But one of the charts is blacked out entirely except for the title, “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests,” and, below the title, this sentence in parentheses: “The U.S. government contends that we cannot share this information.”

Google may be making a mountain out of a mole hill, said Nick Akerman, a data privacy expert and a partner at law firm Dorsey & Whitney. Akerman says the government requests that Google receives are the same type of requests governments make to other kinds of companies, such as banks, as part of criminal investigations.

“It is no different than any other criminal investigation where the government has an order requiring the subpoenaed party not to reveal the information that is being subpoenaed,” he said in a statement. “There is nothing unusual about this request other than the magnitude of data that is being requested.”


In its blog post, Google said it will keep pushing for greater transparency in the future.

[For the Record, 5:47 p.m. PST Nov. 18: An earlier version of this post, quoting a news release, mispelled the name of Nick Akerman as Ackerman.]


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