RSS
Google's government-snooping data dump: By the numbers
The search giant is getting swamped by warrantless requests for users' information
Hey, Gmail users: Google complies with roughly 90 percent of the U.S. government's requests for user information.
Hey, Gmail users: Google complies with roughly 90 percent of the U.S. government's requests for user information. Thinkstock/Photodisc

"It may be easier than you think for government entities to demand the private data you've stored on Google's servers," says Andy Greenberg at Forbes. In its latest biannual Transparency Report, Google has announced yet another rise in the number of government and law enforcement requests for data on users — anything from web surfing habits to identifying who owns an email account to the content of emails — and for the first time broke down the U.S. requests by how the authorities asked for the information. In the vast majority of cases, officials didn't bother with a search warrant — the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) allows authorities to just issue subpoenas for data that's at least six months old.

The king of search complies with about 90 percent of U.S. government snooping requests, "but Google's willingness to reveal this data in the first place should be seen as a credit to the company's respect for privacy," says Greenberg, and one not shared by its peers — Microsoft and Facebook — or wireless carriers. The government authorities asking to peer into your electronic life don't inspire much confidence, either, says Matt Sledge at The Huffington Post. At a tech panel devoted to investigating how the government obtained the emails exposing former Gen. David Petraeus' career-ending extramarital affair, Google legal director Richard Salgado dropped this "depressing and revealing factoid about how law enforcement is actually using its subpoena and warrant powers to get information" about you: "I can't tell you how many requests we get for Facebook."

Here's a numerical look at how often U.S. and foreign governments try to tap into the e-lives of Google users, and how often they succeed.

21,389
Government requests for data worldwide from July to December 2012

33,634
User accounts targeted in those searches

66
Percent of those requests that resulted in Google handing over at least some data

20,938
Government requests for data from January to June 2012

70
Percentage rise in number of requests for data since 2009

8,438
Requests from U.S. government authorities and investigators from July to December 2012

68
Percent of those requests that came through subpoenas instead of court-issued warrants

88
Percent of those requests Google complied with

22
Percent of requests that were through search warrants, usually approved by judges under the ECPA

88
Percent of those requests Google complied with

10
Percent of requests from "court orders issued under ECPA by judges or other processes that are difficult to categorize"

90
Percent of those requests Google complied with

2,431
Data requests from India

66
Percentage of those requests Google complied with

1,693
Data requests from France

44
Percentage of those requests Google complied with

1,458
Data requests from the UK

70
Percentage of those requests Google complied with

97
Data requests from Russia

1
Percentage of those requests Google complied with

149
Data requests from Turkey

0
Percentage of those requests Google complied with

Sources: Forbes, Google (2), Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week