Google divulges more data on its users than ever, as government requests spike

Google faced more requests for user data in the first half of 2016 than in any period since it began reporting the figures.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Google has revealed the top 10 governments by requests for user data in the first half of 2016.

Image: Google

Google received a record number of government requests in the first six months of 2016, its latest Transparency Report reveals.

The US government continues to lead the world in the number of requests it issues to Google for user data in criminal investigations. The company received 14,168 requests for information concerning 30,123 US user accounts between January and June.

More than half were subpoenas issued by the government under the US Electronic Communications Privacy Act, possibly without the involvement of a judge, and just under a third were warrants issued by a judge under that act.

Google produced data for 76 percent and 86 percent of these requests, respectively, which is consistent with reporting periods since 2014.

While the number of requests has steadily risen each period, Google is producing data for a smaller percentage of them these days. For example, it produced user data for 95 percent in the second half of 2010, but back then it received just 4,601 requests.

Globally, Google received 44,943 government requests for information about 76,713 accounts during the current period. It produced user data for 64 percent of those requests.

Also in the top five by user data requests are Germany, France, India, and the UK, though the percentage of requests where data is actually produced is far smaller than in the US.

Google produced data for 59 percent of the 8,767 requests it received from German agencies in the current period. However, against the US trend, Google is now producing data on more occasions than in the past in Germany, up from about 50 percent in 2014.

"Before producing data in response to a government request, we make sure it strictly follows the law, for example to compel us to disclose content in criminal cases we require the government use a search warrant, and that it complies with Google's strict policies (to prevent overreach that can compromise users' privacy)," wrote Richard Salgado, Google's director of law enforcement and information security.

Google also received its first requests ever from Algeria, Belarus, Cayman Islands, El Salvador, Fiji, and Saudi Arabia.

The number of requests made in the US under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) also rose to between 21,000 and 21,499 in the July to December 2015 period, up from between 16,000 to 16,499 in the previous period.

Google is required by law to delay reporting these figures by six months. The FISA court can compel US companies to hand over communications from accounts of non-US citizens.

Salgado noted that the FBI also lifted a gag order on one National Security Letter issued to Google in the second half of 2015, so now Google has update the figure for that period from 0-499 to 1-499.

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