Google Says Government Surveillance Growing

Demands for Google user data and content takedowns are on the rise, some of which are not legitimate.
In its sixth semiannual government Transparency Report, Google on Tuesday noted that one trend is clear: "Government surveillance is on the rise."

This may not come as a shock at a time when an FBI investigation into confrontational email messages between two women uncovered a tangentially related extramarital affair, forcing the resignation of the nation's director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Indeed, it reprises what Google has said in previous government Transparency Reports: Governments want more data about Google users and want more content posted by Google users removed. In June, Google characterized the rise in politically motivated content takedown requests as "troubling."

[ What can the former CIA director's experience with Gmail teach you about securing your communications? See Petraeus Fallout: 5 Gmail Security Facts. ]

In a blog post, Google senior policy analyst Dorothy Chou says, "[G]overnment demands for user data have increased steadily since we first launched the Transparency Report." In the first half of 2012, the period covered in the report, Chou says there were 20,938 inquiries from government organizations for information about 34,614 Google-related accounts.

Google has a long history of pushing back against governmental demands for data, going back at least to its refusal to turn over search data to the Department of Justice in 2005.

Many other companies have chosen to cooperate with government requests rather than question or oppose them, but Chou notes that in the past year, companies like Dropbox, LinkedIn, and Twitter have begun making government information requests public, to inform the discussion about Internet freedom and its limits.

According to the report, the U.S. continues to make the most requests for user data, 7,969 in the first six months of the year. Google complied with 90% of these requests. Google's average compliance rate for the 31 countries listed in the report is about 47%.

Interestingly, Google's overall rate of compliance with government takedown requests has declined in the past two years. This appears to reflect a rise in frivolous or illegitimate takedown requests. As Google notes in its FAQs, it has received a number of fake court orders directing the company to remove content from its search index or websites.

Google continues to enhance the way it presents information in its Transparency Reports. It has just added new bar graphs that illustrate content removal trends over time, translated the Transparency Report into 40 languages and expanded its FAQs.

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