Google Says Government Requests for User Data Rising

Back in black.

Google’s continuing its public aggression against the federal government’s surveillance efforts.

As part of its latest Transparency Report update, Google released a graphic detailing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests—and every inch of it is struck through with black marker, similar to how the federal government censors sensitive portions of publicly released reports.

“Since we began sharing these figures with you in 2010, requests from governments for user information have increased by more than 100 percent,” Google added in a Nov. 14 posting on its Official Blog. “This comes as usage of our services continues to grow, but also as more governments have made requests than ever before. And these numbers only include the requests we’re allowed to publish.”

That bit of theater aside, the new Transparency Report breaks out additional data, including numbers of wiretap orders, pen register orders, court orders, and emergency disclosures. “Earlier this year, we brought a federal case to assert that we do indeed have the right to shine more light on the FISA process,” the blog posting continued. “In addition, we recently wrote a letter of support (PDF) for two pieces of legislation currently proposed in the U.S. Congress.”

Google produces data in response to government requests a majority of the time, although that percentage has decreased from roughly 76 percent at the end of 2010 to 65 percent a little over two years later. At the same time, however, the number of government requests for user data has steadily risen:

Google had previously asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the federal court that oversees surveillance warrants, to loosen its gag order on how often the federal government requests user data from tech companies. “Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data,” a company spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement to Slashdot at the time. “We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a ‘back door’ for the government to access private user data.”

At the heart of Google’s pushback is one simple fact: the company needs user trust in order to make a profit. If users suspect that the search-engine giant is letting the federal government pick through their data without a warrant, or even giving up too much information on too many people in response to government requests, a healthy portion of the user base could very well switch over to other cloud services—which could severely impact Google’s bottom line. Given that reality, it’s unsurprising that Google occasionally engages in some loud theater over the issue.

 

Images: Google