Google: Government requests for user data hit all-time high in second half of 2015

Governments from around the globe made 40,677 requests for user data from Google during the last half of 2015.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Government requests for user data from Google hit an all-time high in the second half of 2015, the internet company revealed on Monday.

Through July to December 2015, governments from around the globe made 40,677 requests, impacting as many as 81,311 user accounts. That's an 18 percent spike from the first half of 2015, when government requests for data impacted 68,908 users.

By far and away, the most requests came from the United States, which made 12,523 data requests for this reporting period. The requests impacted 27,157 users or accounts.

Google reports the number of user data requests it has received every six-month period going as far back as the second half of 2009. It started detailing the number of users and/or accounts impacted in the first half of 2011. "Usage of our services have increased every year, and so have the user data request numbers," the company noted.

Since the second half of 2010, Google has reported the percentage of user data requests it at least partially complies with. For the second half of 2015, the company produced at least some data for 64 percent of requests. That figure has been about the same since 2013, but it's been trending slightly downward. Google complied with 79 percent of requests from the United States.

For its reporting on US requests, Google details the specific type of criminal legal requests it received. For instance, "pen register" rules allow the US government to collect information like IP addresses or telephone numbers dialed, if the information likely to be obtained is relevant to national security or a criminal investigation. Google reports that it received 241 pen register orders for the second half of 2015, impacting 439 accounts. The company complied with 92 percent.

Google only counts criminal legal requests in its total tally for US data requests. However, the company also provides a range of how many requests it receives under two national security tools: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and National Security Letters. This data is subject to a six-month reporting delay.

For the first half of 2015, Google reported that it once again received somewhere between zero and 499 non-content related FISA requests. It received between 500 and 999 content FISA requests, impacting between 16,000 and 16,499 users. That's a slight drop from the second half of 2014, when somewhere between 17,500 and 17,999 users were impacted.

Google reported receiving under 500 National Security Letters for the first half of 2015, impacting between 500 and 999 accounts.

In a blog post, Google said it is pleased with some developments in surveillance laws, including the adoption of the Privacy Shield, the new pact between the EU and the US that sets the terms for trans-Atlantic transfers of personal data. Google also commended the passage of the US Judicial Redress Act, which lets Europeans bring civil actions in the US if agencies there intentionally violate the US Privacy Act when handling personal data.

"The distinctions that U.S. privacy and surveillance laws make between U.S. and non-U.S. persons are increasingly obsolete in a world where communications primarily take place over a global medium: the Internet," wrote Google legal director Richard Salgado.

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