You are probably aware that government agencies make requests to communication and technology companies to hand over user data with or without a court approved warrant. Google (News - Alert) is no exception and in 2010, it started disclosing the percentages of user data requests it complies with. Some of the information the search giant discloses includes the number of users or accounts that the government has requested to see and a summary of requests by each country.
Once again, the U.S. government topped the list of governments requesting user data beginning in July-December 2012. According to the Google Transparency Report, 68 percent of the requests were for user-identifying information authorized by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). These types of requests are the easiest to get since they do not require a warrant from a judge.
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Twenty-two percent of the requests were search warrants. These orders are issued by a judge under the ECPA, where there is a “probable cause” to believe there is certain information related to a crime that can be found. The remaining 10 percent are mostly court orders that are difficult to categorize.
The ECPA has been criticized for a long time for relying on out-dated policies and clauses, which were created long before present technologies ever existed. According to critics, which include Google’s lawyers, the 1986 ECPA allows access to data that is more than 180 days old without a warrant. For example, the act does not provide e-mail accounts with the same warrant protection as the Fourth Amendment gives to physical letters and phone calls. This view, according to Google’s lawyers, is out of compliance with the Fourth Amendment because it authorizes the release of data without a search warrant for e-mails over 180 days.
The Google Transparency Report showed that there were nearly 8,500 requests of user data by the U.S. government that related to nearly 15,000 people, which accounts for 40 percent of requests worldwide.
Interestingly, Google turned down 12 percent of the requests since it believes that they were illegal. It’s good to see a company like Google having a strong compliance department that is able to distinguish between what is a lawful and unlawful user data request.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman