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Google Transparency Report: Snoop Requests Zooming

Google Transparency Report: Snoop Requests Zooming
By Seth Fitzgerald

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"Google recognizes the very real threats that the U.S. and other countries face today and, of course, governments have a duty to protect their citizens," said Richard Salgado, Google's legal director. "But the current lack of transparency about the nature of government surveillance in democratic countries undermines the freedom and the trust most citizens cherish."
 

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In an attempt to keep its users satisfied and to prove that it is not helping the U.S. government any more than is necessary, Google released its latest transparency report showing that the U.S. government requested a substantial amount of user data from the company. According to the report, data requests have increased 100 percent since Google first started to release these reports in 2010.

This report comes just weeks after it was revealed that the federal National Security Agency may have been tapping Google's fiber lines, circumventing data requests and opting to obtain data directly. Even though the report was limited since Google is not allowed to release specific numbers on government requests, it does show that the NSA's programs have only increased in size.

Massive Increase

If nothing else, Thursday's report shows that the U.S. government has been attempting to obtain more data on its citizens every year.

"This comes as usage of our services continues to grow, but also as more governments have made requests than ever before," Google said in a blog post. "And these numbers only include the requests we're allowed to publish."

The 100 percent increase in requests is only based on data Google is allowed to release to the public, so the actual increase could be even more substantial. Although Google is not actively trying to help the NSA, it is required to release data in some situations, as these requests are coming primarily from law enforcement. As such, 83 percent of the 10,918 requests which came from the U.S. government during the first six months of 2013 were honored.

While the U.S. requested the most user data from Google, numerous countries around the world reached out to Google as well, trying to obtain information on its millions of users. India came in second to the U.S. in number of requests, followed by Germany, France, the U.K., and Brazil.

"Google recognizes the very real threats that the U.S. and other countries face today and, of course, governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But the current lack of transparency about the nature of government surveillance in democratic countries undermines the freedom and the trust most citizens cherish," said Google's legal director, Richard Salgado, in Thursday's report.

No Specifics on NSA

It is important to note that while these requests are coming from the U.S. government, the specific number coming from the NSA cannot be detailed.

That being said, the NSA has also been increasing its own data collection when dealing with companies including Google. Unlike the U.S. government, the NSA frequently uses alternative means to acquire the data and the requests are not made with a warrant.

Unfortunately, the government-based requests are covered with the same veil of secrecy as the NSA programs. This has resulted in Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and others coming out to criticize the government for not allowing them to release more information when these requests are made.
 

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