How to Explain Government Spying to Your Kids

A new Google video covers how the company responds to government requests for user data, with the handy help of cute stop-motion toys.

National Journal
Dustin Volz
March 27, 2014, 10:32 a.m.

Google de­cided to have a little fun on Thursday with the re­lease of its new­est trans­par­ency re­port, turn­ing to stop-mo­tion an­im­a­tion to tell the tale of how the com­pany pro­cesses gov­ern­ment re­quests for user data.

An amus­ing 3-minute video chron­icles “in plain lan­guage” how the Sil­ic­on Val­ley com­pany re­sponds to search war­rants from law-en­force­ment of­fi­cials — and the many op­por­tun­it­ies they have to re­ject re­quests from scary-look­ing G-men that are overly broad or con­tain in­ac­cur­ate in­form­a­tion.

“In the course of a crim­in­al in­vest­ig­a­tion, some­times the gov­ern­ment re­quests in­form­a­tion on Google users,” the video’s up­beat nar­rat­or be­gins. “Here’s how we pro­tect users’ in­form­a­tion from ex­cess­ive re­quests while also fol­low­ing the law.”

{{third­PartyEmbed type:you­tube id:MeKKHx­cJf­h0}}

Google’s new trans­par­ency num­bers, by the way, re­veal that gov­ern­ment re­quests for user in­form­a­tion in crim­in­al cases are up about 120 per­cent since the first re­port was pub­lished in 2009. Those re­quests—gen­er­ally from the FBI and loc­al po­lice—are sep­ar­ate from the con­tro­ver­sial sur­veil­lance pro­grams housed at the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency that col­lects In­ter­net data from Google and oth­er tech com­pan­ies, the de­tails of which were ex­posed by leaks from Ed­ward Snowden last year.

“Though our num­ber of users has grown throughout the time peri­od, we’re also see­ing more and more gov­ern­ments start to ex­er­cise their au­thor­ity to make re­quests,” Google said in a com­pan­ion blog post an­noun­cing its up­dated trans­par­ency re­port. “You de­serve to know when and how gov­ern­ments re­quest user in­form­a­tion on­line, and we’ll keep fight­ing to make sure that’s the case.”

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced in Janu­ary that it would per­mit In­ter­net com­pan­ies to dis­close more about gov­ern­ment data re­quests for cus­tom­er in­form­a­tion, say­ing that “pub­lic in­terest in dis­clos­ing the in­form­a­tion now out­weighs the na­tion­al se­cur­ity con­cerns that re­quired its clas­si­fic­a­tion.”

But Google and oth­er com­pan­ies have clamored for more trans­par­ency, and have re­peatedly cri­ti­cized NSA sur­veil­lance in par­tic­u­lar for harm­ing busi­ness and re­la­tions with oth­er coun­tries.

What We're Following See More »
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
3 days ago

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
3 days ago

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
3 days ago

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
3 days ago

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Carly Fiorina Will Not Be Allowed to Debate on Saturday
2 days ago

ABC News has announced the criteria for Saturday’s Republican debate, and that means Carly Fiorina won’t be a part of it. The network is demanding candidates have “a top-three finish in Iowa, a top-six standing in an average of recent New Hampshire polls or a top-six placement in national polls in order for candidates to qualify.” And there will be no “happy hour” undercard debate this time. “So that means no Fiorina vs. Jim Gilmore showdown earlier in the evening for the most ardent of campaign 2016 junkies.