Governments' Google Data Requests Hit All-Time High

Governments around the world, led by the US, are requesting more user data from Google than ever before, according to a new transparency report.

Released at the end of last week, the report shows that in the first half of 2017, Google received 48,941 government requests relating to 83,345 accounts, up from 44,943 requests from 76,713 accounts during the same period in 2016.

It acceded to around two-thirds (65%) of requests.

Half of its requests came from the US government, while Germany the UK, France and others also featured prominently.

The figures didn’t include national security demands made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), as they are subject to a six-month reporting delay.

However, Google was forced to update its FISA figures for several reporting periods in the past, having underestimated many.

For example, the number of users and accounts affected in the first half of 2016 was revised upwards from 18,500 – 18,999 to 25,000 – 25,499.

The key part of FISA allowing the US government to demand data from service providers (Section 702) expires at the end of 2017, and Google is looking to Congress to pass reforms that will improve netizens’ privacy protections.

It argued that processing requests from foreign governments under mutual legal assistance treaties (MLATs) is too slow, and could be replaced by an updated US Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

“ECPA should also be updated to enable countries that commit to baseline privacy, due process, and human rights principles to make direct requests to US providers,” argued Google director of law enforcement and information security, Richard Salgado.

“Providing a pathway for such countries to obtain electronic evidence directly from service providers in other jurisdictions will remove incentives for the unilateral, extraterritorial assertion of a country’s laws, data localization proposals, aggressive expansion of government access authorities, and dangerous investigative techniques. These measures ultimately weaken privacy, due process, and human rights standards.”

Also late last week, Apple released its transparency report which revealed a 6% drop in government requests for data.

The tech giant received 30,814 demands to access 233,052 devices in the first half of 2017.

However, the number of FISA demands – which the firm was able to include – soared to 13,250-13,499, related to 9000-9249 accounts.

In comparison, the same period in 2016 saw between 2750-2900 national security orders related to 2000-2249 accounts.

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