Google Transparency Report: FBI secretly requests data of Google users
Google received a record number of requests to disclose user information to governments and law enforcement bodies in 2012.
The search giant published its findings in its annual transparency report, detailing the number of requests for user information by country. Since Google began documenting figures in 2009, there has been an increase of over 70 per cent in disclosure requests. The company says it has complied with 66 per cent of recent cases, but in reality compliance with government requests is more than 90%.
National governments and law enforcement agencies made 42,327 requests for personal data in 2012, a drastic increase from the 34,001 requests in 2011.
The US comprised the most submissions for private information, with over 8,438 requests in the latter half of 2012, a large portion of which were made through subpoenas. Google granted 88 per cent of these requests, the lowest since the search giant began reporting the figures, reported RT News.
Internet giant Google has included stats on user data requests from FBI in its recentTransparency Report, saying it has received between zero and 999 letters a year since 2009 that have asked for private information of 1,000 – 2,999 users. The company explained its use of ranges instead of exact figures due to concerns of the FBI and the US Department of Justice that “releasing exact numbers might reveal information about investigations.”
National security letters (NSLs) compel Google to expose“name, address, length of service, and local and long distance toll billing records” of specified users. NSLs are said to be used only for conducting national security investigations by the US government.
The FBI is “not required to get court approval to issue an NSL,” the FAQ adds. In order to have the needed data granted, it is sufficient for the agency to enclose a document proving relevance to an “authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” The FBI also has the power to prohibit disclosure of the fact that an NSL was received in the first place.
The lack of court oversight makes extensive abuse and misuse of these highly secretive requests possible, Wired stated on Tuesday, telling of known cases of such abuse. The US Justice Department revealed in 2007 that the FBI agents could“illegally look”at customer records of certain companies with no paperwork involved at all.
The information that the FBI can obtain using an NSL includes the name, address, and billing records of a subscriber. NSLs can’t be used, Google says, to force it to hand over Gmail content or IP addresses. But because the feds can use the letters to bypass courts and exert extreme secrecy over communication providers, civil rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have contended that they represent one of the most “frightening and invasive” excesses of post-9/11 national security efforts.The NSL stats are not included in Google’s biannual Transparency Report, which showed 42,327 requests for personal data were submitted to the company by national governments and law enforcement agencies in 2012 alone. The US government topped the list, having made 16,407 such requests last year.
Google isn’t exactly a stranger to allegations that they invade the privacy of their customers, but now the search engine is being asked to explain itself in court over accusations that they snoop through messages sent through its Gmail service.
Recently, top Google executive recognized as one of the foremost pioneers of the Web warns that the search engine giant’s policy of putting real names and faces on the Internet could have dangerous consequences for the privacy and internet safety of its users.
Vint Cerf, Google’s “Chief Internet Evangelist” and a man largely considered as one of “the fathers of the Internet,” tells Reuters this week that he disagrees with how the company he works for is handling the growing number of personal profiles going up on the Web.
According to Cerf, a former DARPA scientist and a Stanford assistant professor, Google and other big-name Internet companies should not make it mandatory for users to post on websites with their real names and faces. In some situations, says Cerf, anonymity is the only option, reported RT News.
"Using real names is useful," he says, “but I don't think it should be forced on people, and I don't think we do."
The following is copied directly from Google's Website regarding government requests for data on Google Users: