If you’re Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, or any other technology company that provides cloud services, then you spend a tremendous amount of time and energy responding to government requests for information. If you’re a global company, that means responding to countries across the political spectrum, from those that respect individual privacy to those that do not. Meanwhile, your users rightly demand to know how much of their information is being provided along with the nature of the requests.
In response, these same companies often provide transparency reports with a variety of detail on those requests and how the company responded. Google published just such a report today, and issued a summary on its blog titled “Building on Surveillance Reform” and written by Richard Salgado, Google’s director of law enforcement and information security.
In terms of sheer volume, Google received 44,943 government requests over the first half of 2016, an increase of roughly 10 percent compared to the first half of 2015, for 76,713 Google accounts, down from 81,311 accounts. Google handed over information for 64 percent of the requests, which was unchanged from the previous period. Google reports that a number of countries made requests for the first time, including Algeria, Belarus, the Cayman Islands, El Salvador, Fiji, and Saudi Arabia.
Given recent allegations that Yahoo implemented software to actively scan user email for United States spy agencies, Google is understandably quick to note that it reviews each request carefully and ensures that it conforms to the requisite legal guidelines. For example, Google will not provide information regarding criminal cases without a search warrant, and the company has its own firm policies to protect user privacy.
Regarding the U.S. specifically, Google reports that more international accounts were included in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests. Reported as a range, the number increased from 16,000-16,499 to 21,000-21,499. According to Google, the U.S. is in the process of reforming its surveillance practices in general, with FISA getting attention from the U.S. Congress.
In spite of such reforms in the U.S. and with more countries making demands, the number of requests for user information continues to grow. Increasingly, users need to consider government along with those with malicious intent when considering how their private information may be accessed and utilized.