Google Transparency Report Shows U.S. Government Requests For User Data Keep Rising

By Alexandra Burlacu email: | Jan 26, 2013 06:30 PM EST

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Governments continue to request more Google user data and the U.S. leads the way with more than two-thirds of requests involving subpoenas.

Making requests for Google user data through a subpoena means that it not necessary for a judge to sign a search warrant. For the first time, Google's bi-annual Transparency Report now includes details on the legal steps the U.S. government uses (or skips) to request said information.

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With its new Transparency Report, Google aims to reveal the controversial aspect of the U.S. government's legislation that allows it to skip judicial approval to gain access to the online information of private citizens.

According to the report, Google received 136 percent more requests for private data by the end of 2012 from the second half of 2009, when the search giant first started to collect its data.

A whopping 68 percent of requests in the U.S. came through Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) subpoenas, which typically eliminate the need for officials to take their case to a judge and gain approval. The search giant said it complies to some degree with roughly 90 percent of those requests.

The ECPA has sparked off great controversy and severe criticism from privacy advocates, especially since the act dates back to 1986, long before electronic communication became a common thing. Under the ECPA, e-mail stored on a third party's server is considered abandoned after 180 days. Consequently, officials only need written statement certifying that the information is relevant to an investigation to access that data.

Google further noted that 22 percent of the other requests came through ECPA search warrants, which are typically orders issued by a judge. The remaining 10 percent of requests were mostly court orders that judges issued under ECPA.

According to the report, the number of requests that governments worldwide make for users' data continues to increase dramatically. Google's latest Transparency Report covers the lasts six months of 2012.

"User data requests of all kinds have increased by more than 70% since 2009," said Google's legal director Richard Salgado.

In the six months from July to December, the U.S. outpaced the world, leading the way with 8,438 requests. India followed with 2,431 requests, up from 2,319 in the first half of 2012. France, Germany, and the UK rounded up the top five.

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