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Google’s latest transparency report shows increasing government requests for individual data

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Google has recently launched a transparency report that among other things, also consists of information associated with the number of times one of our own elected governments have tried to snoop upon us. Even more worrying than the fact that the government is attempting to steal a peek into our private affairs is the fact that, the number of such attempts has drastically gone up.

This is the 9th time that Google has updated its transparency report and the data obtained from it is far from reassuring. The number of state backed requests for user data have seen a percentage increase in the triple digits, ever since Google began first publishing these reports.

Government requests for user information in criminal cases have increased by about 120 percent since we first began publishing these numbers in 2009.

Bad news basically for proponents of an individual’s right to privacy. The report also offers information upon how many times the software giant actually gave the government access to the data they were seeking.

The United States unsurprisingly led the lists with the highest number of data requests. Apparently, the American government made 12,523 requests for data from 27,157 Google users. Google consented to provide at least some data in almost 79 percent of cases.

The list also has Germany (with 7,491 requests in the second half of 2015, almost double the 3,903 it made in the first half), France (4,174 ), the UK (3,497), and India (3,265) in the top 5. Remarkably, all of these counties have exhibited an increasing curve in as far as the number of requests made to Google are concerned. GooglE also said that it reviews every single request to ensure thaT they are appropriate and

Complies with both the spirit and the letter of the law, and we may refuse to produce information or try to narrow the request in some cases.

Although the company still ends up having to part with the data in a majority of cases. State governments are immensely powerful and ultimately, even huge businesses are subject to the law of the countries they operate in. As such, Google can not really be blamed for providing the data requested.

In fact, the company was one of the first to publish a transparency report and recently, started alerting users if anyone — even government agencies — were trying to break into their accounts. It’s example was soon followed by the likes of Facebook, Twitter etc, who soon adopted similar policies with respect to their users.

Google also talked about the two delays imposed by the U.S. Department of Justice over service providers. First, providers must wait six months before publishing statistics about FISA requests so that, for example, the report published January 1, 2015 will reflect requests received between January 1 and July 1, 2014. Also, providers must wait two years to publish statistics reflecting “New Capability Orders”.

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It may interest you to know that policies apart, governments have the power to effectively gag Google and others from informing you about a breach in your account — in clear contradiction of its policies. However, that is usually done when there is a strong likelihood of danger to national security by such a disclosure.

Meanwhile, Google has also been receiving plenty of requests as a consequence of the right to be forgotten law in Europe. The company has evaluated almost 1,598,751 URLs out of a total 471,220 requests received.

The company also gave an example of the kind of removal request it has been receiving.

After we removed a news story about a minor crime, the newspaper published a story about the removal action. The Information Commissioner’s Office ordered us to remove the second story from search results for the individual’s name. We removed the page from search results for the individual’s name.

I can almost imagine a woebegone experience on the face of whichever Google official chose this story as an example. Undoubtedly, the right to be forgotten is causing Google plenty of misery. Meanwhile, Facebook URLs were the top choice for removal and together accounted for 13595 succesful removal requests.

You can know more about this — and other privacy and security related topics — and even find out where your country stands with regards to data disclosure requests, by visiting this page.


A bibliophile and a business enthusiast.

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