Google Reports Spike in Government Surveillance
Government requests for user information from Google continue to increase, even as the search giant has complied with fewer requests from American agencies.
Google's release of the latest statistics in its Transparency Report come as Washington continues to be rocked by an FBI investigation of e-mails, including some from Gmail accounts, that led to the resignation of CIA Director David Petreaus and delayed the appointment of a top general.
In the first half of 2012, Google received 20,938 requests for information on 34,614 accounts from governments around the world.
Of those, American agencies submitted 7,969 requests for information on 16,281 accounts. That's up from 5,950 in the first six months of 2011, and 6,321 in the last half of 2011.
"This is the sixth time we’ve released this data, and one trend has become clear: Government surveillance is on the rise," Google policy analyst Dorothy Chou wrote in a blog post.
One metric that didn't rise was Google's compliance rate. Last year the company said in complied with 93 percent of U.S. government requests; so far this year Google has complied with 90 percent of those requests.
"Like all law-abiding companies, we comply with valid legal requests," a Google spokeswoman said in an e-mail. "We take user privacy very seriously, and whenever we receive a request we make sure it meets both the letter and spirit of the law before complying. Generally speaking, that means a request must be in writing, signed by an authorized official of the requesting agency, and issued under an appropriate law. If we believe a request is overly broad, we will seek to narrow it."
Google also reported a spike in the number of demands for content removal.
Worldwide, governments asked Google to remove content 1,791 times in the first six months of 2012. That's up from 949 requests during the same period in 2011.
In the United States, government entitities, including courts and law enforcement agencies, submitted 273 requests in the first part of 2012. Google says it complied with roughly 45 percent of those orders.
For example, Google refused to remove seven YouTube videos that were seen as critical of local and state agencies or officials. In other cases, Google complied with portions of requests but did not remove all of the content.