Google Report Shows Steady Rise In Government Surveillance

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US internet giant Google has released a report showing a steady climb in government surveillance online, which a tech industry group called “disturbing”. The report, which covered from July through December of last year, includes more details than in the past, but does not include content takedowns, which now will be the subject of an upcoming separate report.

The Google Transparency Report is available here.

TechFreedom, a technology industry think tank, quickly reacted with concern over the new figures.

“Today’s report reveals a disturbing growth in government surveillance online,” said TechFreedom President Berin Szoka, noting that Google’s report shows a 136% growth in total requests received during the same period in 2009. “On its own, the growth in number of requests for private information like emails should be alarming, especially after the Petreus case. Even more disturbing is that most requests have not been reviewed by a court to ensure that law enforcement has established probable cause to believe a crime has actually been committed, as the Fourth Amendment generally requires.”

TechFreedom said that yesterday, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, “promised to work with Senate Judiciary Chairman Leahy to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act’s increasingly outdated protections of private data stored in the cloud from access by law enforcement.” The tech group is part of the Digital Due Process Coalition, which is working to update the Act.

Google said of the report: “We’re always looking for ways to make the report even more informative. So for the first time we’re now including a breakdown of the kinds of legal process that government entities in the U.S. use when compelling communications and technology companies to hand over user data. From July through December 2012:

Highlights of the report include:

“68 percent of the requests Google received from government entities in the U.S. were through subpoenas. These are requests for user-identifying information, issued under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”), and are the easiest to get because they typically don’t involve judges.

22 percent were through ECPA search warrants. These are, generally speaking, orders issued by judges under ECPA, based on a demonstration of “probable cause” to believe that certain information related to a crime is presently in the place to be searched.

The remaining 10 percent were mostly court orders issued under ECPA by judges or other processes that are difficult to categorize.”

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