Google Report on Increase in Law Enforcement Requests for Data

Google has issued a transparency report detailing requests by law enforcement for user data. For the first time, the report includes a breakdown of the types of legal process used to compel companies to hand over user data.

Requests for user data are up 70% from 2009.
For the last 6 months of 2012:

  • 68 percent of the requests were made through subpoenas. (That is all that is required to obtain user-identifying information)
  • 22 percent were through ECPA search warrants. "These 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.


Google says it received 21,389 requests for information about 33,634 users from July through December 2012.

For the last six months of 2012, there were 8,438
requests for user data and 4,791 requests for user account's information. The full report is available here. The graphs contain statistical data.

The full report is here. For more about what the different types of requuest mean, go to Digital Due Process.

The ECPA (Electronic Privacy Act) needs to be changed.It has not kept up with advancing and new techologices. Digital Due Process says:

For more than a year, privacy advocates, legal scholars, and major Internet and communications service providers have been engaged in a dialogue to explore how the ECPA applies to new services and technologies. We have developed consensus around the notion of a core set of principles intended to simplify, clarify, and unify the ECPA standards; provide clearer privacy protections for subscribers taking into account changes in technology and usage patterns; and preserve the legal tools necessary for government agencies to enforce the laws and protect the public.

Since enactment of ECPA, there have been fundamental changes in communications technology and the way people use it, including -

  • E-Mail, widely embraced by the American Public, who for the most part are clueless that that their e-mails are stored on their mail company's servers, sometimes indefinitely.
  • Mobile location: Cell phones and mobile Internet devices constantly generate location data that supports both the underlying service and a growing range of location-based services of great convenience and value. This location data can be intercepted in realtime, and is often stored in easily accessible logs files. Location data can reveal a person’s movements, from which inferences can be drawn about activities and associations. Location data is augmented by very precise GPS data being installed in a growing number of devices.
  • Cloud computing: Increasingly, businesses and individuals are storing data "in the cloud," with potentially huge benefits in terms of cost, security, flexibility and the ability to share and collaborate.
  • Social networking: One of the most striking developments of the past few years has been the remarkable growth of social networking. Hundreds of millions of people now use these social media services to share information with friends and as an alternative platform for private communications.

What we need :

A clear set of rules for law enforcement access that will safeguard end-user privacy, provide clarity for service providers, and enable law enforcement officials to conduct effective and efficient investigations.

Digital says:

Rather than attempt a full rewrite of ECPA, which might have unintended consequences, we focused on just a handful of the most important issues - those that are arising daily under the current law: access to email and other private communications stored in the cloud, access to location information, and the use of subpoenas to obtain transactional data.

Here's a list of pending legislation concerning changing the rules. Here's the list some members in Congress are calling for.

The ECPA has this list of needed reforms.

Digital Due Process primarily focuses on the 18 USC Chapter 121 - STORED WIRE AND ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATIONS AND TRANSACTIONAL RECORDS ACCESS. Here's an interactive live map of government requests.

It's not quite as elaborate as the Global Interdiction Map for drug busts, but it's a start.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Is Google also subject (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Peter G on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 09:43:41 AM EST
    to "National Security Letters" for user information under the USA-PATRIOT Act? Those are supposedly to be kept secret. If so, then there were undoubtedly many more requests (and responses) than those disclosed in this report.

    An even better question is (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Mr Natural on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 12:56:01 PM EST
    whether they're looking at the actions of individuals already identified, or looking at google searches to identify individuals.

    Google is More Than a Search Engine (none / 0) (#5)
    by ScottW714 on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 03:00:51 PM EST
    I just assumed this was Gmail traffic, Talk chat content, and mobile phone location data for the majority.

    But now that you mention it, they should reveal what areas these requests are targeting.


    I thought... (none / 0) (#2)
    by kdog on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 09:46:23 AM EST
    33-34 thousand people sounded low, Big Brother gotta be up in many more Google users business than that.  

    It Would Be Nice... (none / 0) (#3)
    by ScottW714 on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 11:12:00 AM EST
    ...if the listed total members to get an idea of the percent of people they had requests for.  And I gotta say 4,791 requests for user account info doesn't bother me at all.  That is if I thought that number was legitimate.

    The only thing I can find is that Google+ has 400,000,000 million users, but I don't know much about it or how it relates to actual Google users.