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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.

(Google)

photo of Dustin Volz
March 27, 2014

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."

 

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.

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