Government requests for user data increasing, says Google

The rise in government requests for users’ data continued in the second half of 2012, Google has revealed in its latest Transparency Report

The steady increase in government requests for Google users’ data continued in the second half of 2012, the internet search firm revealed in its latest Transparency Report.

User data requests of all kinds have increased by more than 70% since 2009. Google received 21,389 requests for information about 33,634 users between July and December 2012.

The US topped the poll with 8,438 requests in the second half of 2012, 136% more than the same period in 2009 and up another 6% from the first half of 2009.

India made the second most requests for information with 2,431 calls, up from 2,319 in the first half of 2012. France, Germany and the UK completed the top five.

For the first time since its inception in 2010, the report includes a breakdown of the kinds of legal process that government entities in the US use to compel technology companies to hand over user data.

The report said 68% of requests in the US were made under Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) subpoenas, which typically circumvent the need for officials to make their case to a judge.

Google said it complies to some degree with 90% of those requests.

Some 22% of requests went through ECPA search warrants. These usually comprise orders issued by judges under ECPA, based on a demonstration of “probable cause” that certain information related to a crime is presently in the place to be searched.

 The remaining 10% were mostly court orders issued under ECPA by judges or other processes that are difficult to categorise, Google said.

The ECPA has been widely criticised by privacy advocates. ECPA was passed in 1986, long before electronic communication became common, according to The Guardian.

 Under ECPA, email stored on a third party's server for more than 180 days is considered abandoned. To access that information, officials need only a written statement certifying that the information is relevant to an investigation.

The paper quoted Holmes Wilson, co-founder of online advocacy group Fight For the Future, saying ECPA is in pressing need of reform.

“Right now the government can access almost anything that you have online without a warrant and at anytime. Electronic communication should be afforded the same protection as your physical mail or files stores in a cabinet," Wilson said.

Google's latest Transparency Report does not include new data on content removals. Google said those figures would be released separately in future.

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