Government surveillance of the Internet is on the rise, according to Google, which recently issued the sixth update of its Transparency Report. Time to break out the tinfoil hats and head for the secure bunker in the backyard.
“One trend has become clear: Government surveillance is on the rise,” read a Nov. 13 posting on Google’s Official Blog. According to the accompanying graph, government requests for user data rose from 12,539 in the second half of 2009 to 20,938 in the first half of 2012.
A separate page of the Transparency Report breaks down those user-data requests by country. The United States headed up that list with 7,969 such requests, followed by India, (2,319), Brazil (1,566), France (1,546), and Germany (1,533).
While the number of government requests to remove content from Google services stayed mostly level between 2009 and 2011, Google claims it “spiked” in the first half of 2012, when government officials made 1,791 requests to remove 17,746 pieces of content. As with user data requests, Google offers a handy page breaking down the removal requests by country; again, the United States topped the list with 209 requests between January and June of this year, followed by Germany (180) and Brazil (143).
In addition to genuine court orders, Google apparently finds itself on the receiving end of fake court orders, presumably submitted by unscrupulous individuals or companies with an interest in scrubbing the Internet clean of certain information. Indeed, an accompanying FAQ lists those fake court orders, including a “fake American court order that demanded the removal of a blog because it supposedly violated the copyrights of an individual by using her name in various blog posts.”
Google also refuses to remove content if the request isn’t specific (such as no URL listed in the request) or if the government body in question has submitted an informal letter rather than a full-on court order.
“The information we disclose is only an isolated sliver showing how governments interact with the Internet, since for the most part we don’t know what requests are made of other technology or telecommunications companies,” Dorothy Chou, senior policy analyst for Google, wrote in that Nov. 13 blog posting. “But we’re heartened that in the past year, more companies like Dropbox, LinkedIn, Sonic.net and Twitter have begun to share their statistics too.”