Google

The U. S. requests user data from Google four times more than any other country

In the first half of 2011, the U. S. asked Google for user data almost 6000 times. Google provided the requested information 93% of the time.

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.

Figure A

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.

Also read:

About

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.

4 comments
Lazarus439
Lazarus439

On what basis do you declare that 5950 requests from the United States is excessive? That works out to 1 request for every 51509 people in the US. Western Europe (France, Germany and the United Kingdom) isnt that far off, at 1 request for every 57472 people. (See http://www.google.com/publicdata for the 2010 population numbers.) These are also the countries with the biggest terrorism bulls eyes painted on them. There are a myriad of reasons why data can be requests besides terrorism: criminal, child porn, cyber bullying, to name a few, and there are several levels of government: federal, state, county, local, all of which can issue requests. Lastly, private citizens, that's you and me, can also subpoena such information. These would also presumably be included in the request totals. Something that never seems to come up in these discussions/rants: the government isnt psychic. If a law enforcement agency, or an intelligence agency for that matter, gets a tip or a lead, it's obligated to follow it up. Sometimes it turns out to be real, sometimes it doesnt, but this isnt known until after the follow-up happens. Frankly, I'd rather the FBI read my email to find out I hadn't actually plotted anything than to have an airliner blown up because they didn't read the email of someone who was.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Am I overly concerned or do you agree that almost 6,000 separate requests for user information is excessive?

pizza7
pizza7

I don't trust Google nor this government. I write to my representatives all the time to complain about the Patriot Act. At first I thought it was necessary but now it is out of hand. We citizens have lost our fourth amendment rights and need to take them back. It used to be that authorities had to get a court order and had to follow due process. When you give too much power into the hands of a few people it will always lead to trouble. I don't use cloud services much. I have 8 machines in my house and plenty of disc space. I will soon have a NAS. I am quite capable of doing my own back-ups. I usually surf with Firefox with add-ins like Ghostery so I can control what sites can see what information about me. I also use the scroogle ssl scraper for Google alot. They don't need to know what I am doing on the web !!!

seanferd
seanferd

It was bad enough previously, but all that talk after 2001 about not letting the terrorist win was just that: talk. They won right out of the gate, and we've allowed the gov to infringe on our freedom, spy, execute warrantless information gathering, and act on really poor rubber-stamped warrants, not to mention retroactively make immune companies which assisted in illegal gov activities. That isn't us winning by any stretch. So what's 6000 requests to Google between friends?