New Google report reveals 68% of requests from U.S. government entities submitted without warrants
By End the Lie
While Google’s transparency report released in late 2012 revealed that the U.S. continues to demand far more user information than any other nation, the newest report reveals a new dimension: the majority of the requests are submitted without probable cause warrants.
While readers of End the Lie are likely familiar with the U.S.’s massive warrantless wiretapping program and the fact that it is growing at an exponential rate, this is the first time that Google – which has a never-to-be-revealed relationship with the National Security Agency (NSA) – has actually released the number of warrantless requests received from U.S. government entities.
Keep in mind, that this type of surveillance is only a small part of the illegal warrantless surveillance in the United States as there is a great deal conducted under the auspices of the recently reauthorized FISA Amendments Act. In addition, the government requests massive amounts of subscriber information from mobile phone companies along with location data, which the Obama administration claims is not protected.
Google, a company closely tied to the American intelligence community, received 8,438 requests for user data between July and December 2012 alone, according to the latest transparency report released Jan. 23.
Slate’s Ryan Gallagher points out that this figure is a 6 percent increase over the 7,969 requests filed between January and June of last year.
According to the report, Google complied with an average of 89 percent of requests received from the United States government during 2012, down from 93 percent in 2011.
This transparency report is especially notable since it marks the first time that Google has detailed the various kinds of legal processes used by government entities to request user information.
In the case of the United States, 68 percent of requests were filed via subpoena instead of search warrant. Google notes on their official blog that subpoenas “are the easiest to get because they typically don’t involve judges.”
Only 22 percent were actually filed through Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) search warrants and according to Google, “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.”
While it is interesting to see that the number of fulfilled requests has gone down slightly, one must wonder how many requests actually go unrecorded given Google’s relationship with the NSA.
One can only speculate about the nature of their relationship and how much information is shared since a court ruling protected Google from ever having to disclose their relations and the NSA has similar refused to discuss it.
Regardless, it is clear that the United States is increasingly requesting private user information with a drastic rise of 100% over the past three years alone.
Privacy International, a group defending the right to privacy and fighting surveillance around the world, expressed deep concern in a press release today.
“Governments must stop treating the user data held by corporations as a treasure trove of information they can mine whenever they please, with little or no judicial authorization,” Carly Nyst, Privacy International’s Head of International Advocacy, said.
Nyst said that the report should “serve to remind individuals that any information they hand over to companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter is highly vulnerable to government intrusion.”
“The alarming statistics in this latest Transparency Report serve as a reminder of the need for stronger national and regional privacy protections in relation to online communications,” Nyst said.
Privacy International along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation will soon, “be publishing a set of International Principles on Communications Surveillance and Human Rights. We hope these principles will offer guidance to governments about the standards and safeguards that must be put in place to safeguard the right to privacy online,” according to Nyst.
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