Business, Software Programs, Technology Security

Google Publishes Transparency Report of Government Information Requests

Google, today, has released their much awaited Transparency Report, which details all of the governmental information requests given to the company in the past four years. In an official Blogpost, Google detailed the types of requests that were made as well as the quantity and timeframe in which they were made. They also split them up between content and non-content requests which should differentiate between metadata and actual content of a user’s account. The numbers themselves, when you take a look at them, are quite staggering when you take into account that these numbers are only US government, via the DoJ and FISA courts, requests.

The numbers span from January 2009 through the end of 2013, however, for some reason there is a 6 month trail on those numbers (probably part of their agreement that they made with the DoJ). This means that we won’t see the numbers from July 2013 through December 2013, which could signal a significant drop or increase in requests after the revelations of Edward Snowden in 2013.

These requests also include National Security Letters, or NSLs which are what the FBI uses in order to gain access to certain data through the FISA courts, which basically grant them almost 100% of their requests. Because they are National Security Letters, Google does not report these numbers in their transparency reports because they cannot include them, as per Google’s transparency FAQ which explains exactly what an NSL exactly is and how it works.

In addition to NSLs, Google also has criminal legal requests, which are generally requested by the DoJ and FBI in cases where information from Google could be useful in the prosecution. The truth is that Google is less detailed here on what exactly these criminal investigations are, but the general consensus is that the standard of proof on the government’s side is fairly higher here as you can tell by the over percentage requests granted at the bottom of the page.

Google also gave a detailed report of exactly how many of those requests were filled by the company and during what time frames. The amount of data is quite staggering, so it may take some time to digest and process appropriately. But in the first 6 months of 2013, Google produced 83% of all the the requests made by various governmental agencies. They also granted 100% of wiretap orders, but that’s because the standard for wiretaps is much greater when it comes to warrants granted by judges, as it should be with all forms of information gathering. We’ve graphed this data for you to show user data requests, user account requests and percentage of requests granted with some or all data. Keep in mind, in order to make this graph readable, the numbers for the requests are in hundreds, so 217 is actually 21,700 requests and so on.

As you can tell from this graph, there has been an ever increasing amount of government requests of users’ data and Google has actually been granting a smaller and smaller percentage of those requests. The worrying part, though, is the fact that user account requests nearly doubled from the first 6 months of 2011 to the first six months of 2013, only a 2 year span. Also, the amount of user data requests doubled from the second half of 2010 to the second half of 2012. Once again, only a 2 year span. In less than the 4 years that Google has been collecting the data, they have gone from 3,600 user data requests to 10,900 user data requests, nearly triple.

We will be looking over these numbers more closely to see if we can get any more interesting details or trends about Google’s compliance with government requests and how much data they’re really being forced to hand over.