Google says U.S. data requests have more than tripled since 2009


(AP Photo/Keystone, Walter Bier, File)

Google's latest transparency report is out, and with it comes news that should be shocking to no one: Federal, state and local governments keep asking for more and more data.

(Google)
(Google)

In the second half of 2009, U.S.-based data requests numbered 3,580. By the first half of this year, that number had risen to 10,918 — a 205 percent increase. That pattern is also reflected globally, though to a lesser extent. Over the same period, international data requests on Google users roughly doubled.

For the first time, Google has also offered a detailed breakdown of the kinds of requests it receives. Previous reports simply divided the requests up into subpoenas, search warrants and an amorphous category called "Other." Now, the company distinguishes among wiretaps, pen registers and disclosures made in connection with life-threatening emergencies. If you click through to the full report on U.S. requests, Google helpfully explains the legal authority behind each kind of order. In most cases, the company cites the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a law that's currently being considered for updates in Congress.


(Google)

The wiretaps are especially interesting. The government made seven such requests in the first half of 2013. There are only a handful of services for which this could apply, as the ACLU's Christopher Soghoian points out:

 

The vast majority of U.S. data requests are subpoenas. Those are followed by search warrants, which are held to a higher legal standard. The rest account for around 10 percent of the requests. Here's what that looks like broken down:

(Google)
(Google)

Along with Microsoft, Google is in the midst of suing the government over its restrictions on further disclosures about U.S. data requests. As a parting shot at the NSA, Google throws in a graph that productively explains all the requests it receives under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act:

(Google)
(Google)

Google has long been a leader in Silicon Valley when it comes to transparency reports, but thanks in part to leaker Edward Snowden, those efforts have now intensified. This is the eighth time in three years that Google's updated its report. Meanwhile, other tech companies are getting on board, too. Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and even Apple provide information on government requests.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecommunications and the Internet. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.

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Brian Fung · November 14, 2013

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