Australian government requests to Google increase fivefold

The number of requests to Google for user information from Australian government and law enforcement agencies has increased fivefold between 2009 and the end of 2013.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Australian law enforcement and government agencies have ramped up their requests to Google for user information since Google began disclosing the number requests it receives in 2009 by a factor of five.

In the latest transparency report statistics released by the internet giant overnight, the number of times Australian government agencies that requested user information for criminal investigations was up to 780 requests relating to 944 accounts for the six months ending December 31, 2013.

This is up from 645 requests for 807 accounts in the previous six-month period.

Google handed over some information from those requests in the last six months of 2013 around 70 percent of the time, the company said.

Accessing information from Google is increasingly becoming a tool used by law enforcement agencies in Australia, with the number of requests over the past four years increasing fivefold from 155 requests in the six months to December 31 2009, up to 780 in the last six months of 2013.

The figure puts Australia well above the average for the increase in government requests. Broadly, Google reported today that there had been a 120 percent increase in requests to Google from governments across the globe since 2009.

Google's legal director for law enforcement and information security, Richard Salgado, said in a blog post that while the rise in the number of Google users in that time period could explain some of the rise in requests, it was undeniable that governments were increasingly exercising their authority to make requests to Google for user information. He said Google continues to fight against governments demanding broad personal information.

"We consistently push back against overly broad requests for your personal information, but it's also important for laws to explicitly protect you from government overreach. That's why we’re working alongside eight other companies to push for surveillance reform, including more transparency."

It comes as the parliament is reviewing the access Australian government agencies have to telecommunications customer data. Law enforcement agencies and the Attorney-General's Department have argued that telecommunications companies should be required to keep customer information for up to two years, with some even arguing for browsing history to be retained for criminal investigations.

Privacy advocates and ISPs have, however, argued that such a regime would be a breach of personal privacy, and would potentially put ISPs in breach of the new Australian Privacy Principles in the Privacy Act.

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