Google’s Latest Transparency Report Criticises Intelligence Agencies

Google is not allowed to reveal how much information is requested by organisations like the NSA, and it’s not happy about that

Government requests for user information have more than doubled since 2010, according to the latest bi-annual Transparency Report published by Google.

The search giant says the US demands more user data than any other country, with almost 11,000 requests for information submitted between January and June, followed by India, Germany and France. The UK was ranked fifth, with 1,274 requests in six months.

“And these numbers only include the requests we’re allowed to publish,” wrote Richard Salgado, legal director of Law Enforcement and Information Security at Google, implying that thousands of classified requests could have been submitted by agencies like the NSA or GCHQ. To illustrate this point, Google has also posted a redacted slide that features no information except the title: “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests”.

The secret war


In light of the recent revelations about the NSA surveillance practices, it is unsurprising that the US authorities submitted four times more requests for information than any other country.

The UK was in the middle of the top ten, below some EU countries that vocally campaign for user privacy. However, the list doesn’t include information requested by the British intelligence community.

Google doesn’t give this data away willingly – for example, it responded to just 83 percent of requests from the US authorities, 67 percent from the UK and less than half of those that originated from France.

The company says that while the number of requests has been growing, the percentage of requests it complied with has actually been steadily decreasing since 2010, to an average of 65 percent between January and June, as Google found new ways to resist government intervention.

The latest report features additional information on legal justification for requests related to criminal cases in the US. It states that 68 percent were the result of subpoenas, 22 percent – warrants, and one percent was listed under something called the “emergency disclosure requests”.

“We want to go even further. We believe it’s your right to know what kinds of requests and how many each government is making of us and other companies. However, the U.S. Department of Justice contends that U.S. law does not allow us to share information about some national security requests that we might receive,” added Salgado.

To achieve this, in September Google joined forces with Microsoft to sue the American government, fighting for the right to provide more information on FISA requests, and attempting to clear its name in the process. The company was previously accused of collaborating with the NSA, something it vehemently denied.

In addition, Google, a member of the Digital Due Process Coalition, recently wrote a letter of support for two pieces of legislation currently proposed in the US Congress with the aim of limiting the scope of surveillance by the government agencies.

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