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Governments Ramp Up User Data Requests to Google

Google handed over data on users to the authorities in nearly two-thirds of cases in the second half of 2015, according to its latest Transparency Report.

The report shows that the web giant received requests for data 40,677 times during the period 1 July and 31 December 2015, and user account information 81,311 times - up from 69,000 during the previous six months.

It claimed that 64% of the time it produced “some data,” although it’s impossible to know how much.

However, the figure is far higher in countries like the US (79%), UK (72%) and Australia (70%), where there have been many thousands of user account access requests.

Interestingly the figure is far lower in some European countries such as Germany (57%) and France (59%).

Taken as a whole, however, the percentage of cases in which Google hands over data to the authorities is gradually falling – from a high of 76% at the end of 2010.

Defending his firm’s stance on co-operation with law enforcement, Google’s legal director for Law Enforcement and Information Security, Richard Salgado, said: “We’re pleased with some of the improvements we’ve seen in surveillance laws.”

He noted the recent Privacy Shield ‘agreement’ as including “procedural protections” for surveillance, and the signing into law of the Judicial Redress Act which will help non-US citizens redress grievances around data collected and stored by Washington.

“There are other important steps that the US can take to ensure that the privacy interests of non-US persons are addressed as policymakers consider government surveillance issues,” Salgado added.

“We helped create the Reform Government Surveillance coalition to encourage Congress and the executive branch to take steps to modernize US surveillance laws, further protect the privacy and data security rights of all users, including those outside the US and those not of US nationality, and improve diplomatic processes to promote a robust, principled, and transparent framework for legitimate cross-border investigations.”

However, despite the approval of Privacy Shield given by the European Commission, it is likely to be challenged down the line, according to legal experts.

“If the Privacy Shield adequacy decision is challenged, the CJEU is likely to expedite the hearing given the importance of this issue,” argued Pinsent Masons consultant lawyer, Kuan Hon. “Ultimately the CJEU will have the final say here, and at this stage we can’t predict whether they would uphold the Privacy Shield decision or invalidate it, and if so on what grounds.”

Further, although the agreement apparently gives assurances to EU citizens that they won’t be spied on by Washington, there remain question marks over the US and UK governments’ attitudes to their own citizens.

Microsoft last week won a case against the DoJ which had requested it hand over data on US citizens stored overseas.

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