US tops Google's list for government snooping

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Google handed over more user data to the US government in the first six months of this year than to all other countries combined.

The US made 7,969 requests for user data, of which Google complied with 90 percent. Next most inquisitive was India, with 2,319 requests, Brazil with 1,566, France with 1,546, Germany with 1,533 and the UK with 1,425.

The US figure presumably includes the FBI request that uncovered the contents of emails between CIA director David Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

Overall, the company's latest Transparency Report reveals that it had 20,939 requests for user data, relating to 34,614 accounts, compared with just 12,539 requests for its first reporting period in 2009.

"Government demands for user data have increased steadily since we first launched the Transparency Report," says Google senior policy analyst Dorothy Chou.

Meanwhile, requests to remove content were also up - by 46 percent on the case of the US. The number rose by 98 percent in the UK, 132 percent in France and 145 percent in Germany.

Turkey showed the greatest rise, with content removal requests rocketing by 1,013 percent. Many of these related to sites critical to the government.

"The number of government requests to remove content from our services was largely flat from 2009 to 2011," says Chou.

"But it’s spiked in this reporting period. In the first half of 2012, there were 1,791 requests from government officials around the world to remove 17,746 pieces of content."

A lot of this is down to copyright owners rather than governments. Google says it's now getting an astonishing two million takedown requests a week from copyright holders, compared with just 100,000 per week a year earlier.

"The excessive and inappropriate use of takedown requests by governments, and private individuals or companies, can be highly chilling and impact on online debate, from social media to comment threads and more," warned campaign group Index on Censorship in a report last week.

"There is a lack of adequate data to monitor the extent and source and motivation for takedown requests, although the transparency reports now issued both by Google and by Twitter start to show which governments are most active in issuing such requests, whether they are backed by court orders, and whether the company (Google or Twitter) complied."