To their credit, Google feels a very specific responsibility to be as transparent as possible when it comes to the flow of information related to their users and government requests for information. You can (and should) check out the Google Transparency website for details, but here is a pertinent quote:
We've created Government Requests to show the number of government inquiries for information about users and requests to remove content from our services. We hope this step toward greater transparency will help in ongoing discussions about the appropriate scope and authority of government requests.
The Google Transparency report does not reveal all the details about what is requested, but the numbers raise several questions in my head and I suspect there are many concerned members of TechRepublic too.
The number that jumps out is that there were 5,950 requests for user data submitted by the United States to Google, by presumably legal means, in the first six months of 2011. The next nearest number of user data requests were submitted by India at a mere 1,739.The table (Figure A) goes on to show that of the 5,950 U. S. requests, Google complied at least partially with 93% of them.
The overall number of user data requests sorted by country.
What does this mean?
The number of user requests seems exceedingly high to me. What information is the United States government seeking? What are they doing with it? Shouldn't the U. S. government be at least as transparent as Google? What can the government find out about me that I have not already made publicly available on social media?
I think the United States government owes its citizens an explanation.
On the flip side, how can we trust Google, or any cloud-based service for that matter, with our data? We can assume these 6,000 requests are legitimate and legal, but even with that stipulation, is that a good way to conduct business?
I think these questions have to be debated and answered in full before anyone, and especially IT professionals, can or should feel comfortable with data existing in the public cloud.
Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.