Inside Google’s 2012 Transparency Report

by Jordan Richardson on November 15, 2012

Google’s sixth bi-annual Transparency Report has revealed something that may not be overly surprising: government surveillance on the Internet is on the rise.

The Transparency Report was released on November 13. As always, it describes the number of government requests to either remove or examine content from Google. The amount of those requests “steadily increased” in 2012, says the search engine giant.

According to Google, 20,938 inquiries about over 34,000 specific accounts were made by government officials globally. Content that the government wants to see completely eliminated from Google’s services also went up in the same time period, with officials making 1,791 requests to remove 17,746 pieces of content.

“Government surveillance is on the rise,” Senior Policy Analyst Dorothy Chou notes. “[G]overnment demands for user data have increased steadily since we first launched the Transparency Report.”

The data sought by government officials has already had a real world application that has been gathering gossipy headlines like mad as of late, of course. The downfall of former CIA Director General David Petraeus came to light after the revelation of an affair. That affair was uncovered by the FBI using legal cover from the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act and other legislation to uncover an email trail. And that trail went right through a private Gmail account.

The good news is that Google is so transparent that they actually tell everyone and anyone about these government requests, hence the Transparency Report.

Google doesn’t speculate much in terms of specifics, but it does reveal that nature of each government request regarding information removal requests. By far, the majority of requests have come with “defamation” in mind.

Interestingly, Google isn’t complying with these requests as much as it had in the past. It reveals the nature of some requests, as examples, and its refusal to follow through with the removal requests. It also details removal requests that have come in for the first time from countries like Hungary, Monaco and Saudi Arabia.

An example of the sorts of removal requests comes from the Philippines. “We received a request from the office of a local mayor to remove five blogs for criticizing the mayor. We did not remove content in response to this request,” Google says in the report.

In terms of requests in which Google is asked to hand over specific data for its users, the United States accounted for 7,969 of the 20,930 inquiries – just under 40 percent of all requests. The US sought data about 16,281 specific user accounts. Canada, meanwhile, made 50 requests pertaining to 50 users.

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Google Bristles at Persistent Government Information Requests —
January 24, 2013 at 5:41 am

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