Google Explains How It Handles Government Requests For Data; Why Don't More Companies Do This?

from the be-transparent dept

Just recently, we pointed to Google latest Transparency Report, which showed a massive increase in requests for info on users from government agencies. However, it also showed that a much lower percentage of such requests were being honored, raising some questions about how Google handled such requests. Well, wonder no more (or, at least, wonder a little less) as Google has now explained the process by which it handles such requests, going into a fair bit of detail (you have to click through) in terms of the legal requirements and how Google handles different types of requests, and what data Google may be compelled to reveal. However, in an accompanying blog post, Google makes clear that it often pushes back:
When government agencies ask for our users’ personal information—like what you provide when you sign up for a Google Account, or the contents of an email—our team does several things:

  • We scrutinize the request carefully to make sure it satisfies the law and our policies. For us to consider complying, it generally must be made in writing, signed by an authorized official of the requesting agency and issued under an appropriate law.
  • We evaluate the scope of the request. If it’s overly broad, we may refuse to provide the information or seek to narrow the request. We do this frequently.
  • We notify users about legal demands when appropriate so that they can contact the entity requesting it or consult a lawyer. Sometimes we can’t, either because we’re legally prohibited (in which case we sometimes seek to lift gag orders or unseal search warrants) or we don’t have their verified contact information.
  • We require that government agencies conducting criminal investigations use a search warrant to compel us to provide a user’s search query information and private content stored in a Google Account—such as Gmail messages, documents, photos and YouTube videos. We believe a warrant is required by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure and overrides conflicting provisions in ECPA.
This is definitely good to see -- and lots of other companies should do the same thing. However, it still remains an issue that governments can, and do, get lots of information with limited oversight -- even when companies push back.

Speaking of which, Twitter also came out with its latest transparency report, which highlights the information requests it gets as well. Both companies are really leading the way on transparency here, but it's a shame that these stories are even newsworthy, rather than the way most large companies act.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    acduah5, Jan 28th, 2013 @ 4:42pm

    % of requests that produce data still very high

    The way the article reads suggests some small portion of requests produce data, but the decline was only a few percentage points, still leaving it in the 90% range. Yea, fighting hard... not.

     

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  2. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2013 @ 4:55pm

    Good job Masnick!!! Don't let the merits prevent an opportunity to lick the hand that feeds you.

     

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  3.  
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    weneedhelp - not signed in, Jan 28th, 2013 @ 4:57pm

    Re: % of requests that produce data still very high

    Damned if they do and damned if they dont. OOTB? boB? AJ?

    The government needs legal process—such as a subpoena, court order or search warrant—to force Google to disclose user information. Exceptions can be made in certain emergency cases, though even then the government can't force Google to disclose.

    So if they push back and then receive a subpoena, court order, or a warrant, they must comply. Thats great, google is at least forcing them to do so. What is troubling is the amount of requests with a subpoena, court order, or a warrant attached. No abuse there.

    Complain about Google and not the Government abuse? Yeah, hi boB, how ya been?

    It WAS boB that was against big everything, right? Or was it OOTB, or AJ? Ah who cares, a self appointed shill is a self appointed shill.

     

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  4.  
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    Wally (profile), Jan 28th, 2013 @ 5:03pm

    Good News, Sort of Bad News, and Bad News

    The Good News:
    Google requires a search warrant for the US gvt. to search through your e-mails, private massages, and YouTube videos pertaining to investigations.

    The Sort of Bad News:
    The RIAA and MPAA are still have free reign to apply DCMA takedowns on YouTube videos without review from Google.

    The Bad News:
    To determine whether a search warrant is required, Google is going through your personal data...

    Anyone see the potential in advertising for them through this??

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    weneedhelp - not signed in, Jan 28th, 2013 @ 5:04pm

    Re:

    Wooo hooo lets ride the outta your mind train again with our favorite conductor, Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2013 @ 4:55pm.

    Going off the rails on a crazy train.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    weneedhelp - not signed in, Jan 28th, 2013 @ 5:10pm

    Re: Good News, Sort of Bad News, and Bad News

    "The Bad News:" No they tell you exactly what data is used per request be it a subpoena, court order, or a warrant.

    (you have to click through)
    What's the difference between a subpoena, a search warrant and a court order under ECPA? And what information can a government agency get from Google with each?

    https://www.google.com/transparencyreport/userdatarequests/legalprocess/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2013 @ 6:03pm

    After the collapse of the government case against it, google can give the government the big FU.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    acduah5, Jan 28th, 2013 @ 6:05pm

    Re: Re: % of requests that produce data still very high

    I am not complaining about Google. I am complaining about the article, which indicates the % of requests that produce data is now "much lower" (it isn't) and that Google "often pushes back" (no figures on this, but if they do, it doesn't seem to have efficacy).

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    acduah5, Jan 28th, 2013 @ 6:19pm

    Re: % of requests that produce data still very high

    To be precise, for the US, it is now 90% of requests result in data submitted to the requesting agency, down from 93% the year prior. That is 'much lower' according to the article, which again reads as if this is nothing to worry about because Google has got your back. Now, nothing Google can do about this really, except spend more money and time fighting maybe, but they'll almost always lose.

    For the WORLD, which fared much better than the US, it is now 66% of requests resulting in data. Down from 70% the year prior.

    So, that is the tremendous decrease the article mentions... Totally inaccurate. The article should be amended.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    acduah5, Jan 28th, 2013 @ 6:27pm

    Re: Re:

    The poster her is probably referring to the favoritism that seems apparent in the article given the figures I state above (despite your berating, dunno who you are calling me, but you need some help..). Since Google makes or breaks Techdirt, this is valid criticism for any journalist, especially when the article is slanted, again as I point out above.

     

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  11.  
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    acduah5, Jan 28th, 2013 @ 6:29pm

    Re: Re: Good News, Sort of Bad News, and Bad News

    Your comment on the 'bad news' is completely missing his point. Google employees may, and likely do (unknown), preview the data being requested in order to determine whether the order should be complied with as it is written.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jan 28th, 2013 @ 7:12pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I swear, it never gets old how you lot seem to continue to think that Techdirt is an employee of, or otherwise working for, google.

    Laughing at regular blind people would be wrong in all sorts of ways, but I can't find it in me to feel guilty for laughing at those that blind themselves regarding a particular subject on purpose just because they find the facts inconvenient.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Wally (profile), Jan 28th, 2013 @ 7:17pm

    Re: Re: Good News, Sort of Bad News, and Bad News

    "No they tell you exactly what data is used per request be it a subpoena, court order, or a warrant."

    2 problems with that:

    1. In order for this to be put in the way you put it...Google is still having to go through your data to determine what data is being asked for in order to send it to you. By law, if you get served with a subpoena, court order, or warrant, you have the inalienable right under The 5th Amendment to the Constitution to the United States to know what you are being charged with. It also entitles you to not say anything self incriminating.

    2. Legality aside...Google has to point out what is being investigate to it's users who are being investigated...ego, no matter what either they or the US government do...you are still having your 4th Amendment rights being violated by both parties. Google can get in more trouble due to misrepresentation in the process.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Wally (profile), Jan 28th, 2013 @ 7:24pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    All I can say is that there has been a tiny bias towards Google, but most of that comes from where the information came from in the article.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Wally (profile), Jan 28th, 2013 @ 7:27pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Honestly though...I see more Google Bias from very few of the commenters that actually show it. One AC in particular makes it a point to correct anything I say in favor of or against either Apple or Google. What the bias indicator for the certain said AC is simply that his insulting nature shows his bias. The mere mention of the word "Apple" from me in a comment would trigger him.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Alan Renner, Jan 28th, 2013 @ 7:33pm

    Google handing over info upon Gov Request

    How the hell did this happen. Am I an authorized official because I work for Law Enforcement and I think I have a good reason? No, the only "authorized official" should be a JUDGE in good standing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Wally (profile), Jan 28th, 2013 @ 7:36pm

    Re: Google handing over info upon Gov Request

    How the hell did this happen??? It's Google...now with double standards...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Alan Renner, Jan 28th, 2013 @ 7:37pm

    Re: Re: Re: Good News, Sort of Bad News, and Bad News

    WHAT?!! "Subpoena, court order or Warrant"????? I think you just said the same thing three different ways.... They're all orders signed by a judge.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Killercool (profile), Jan 28th, 2013 @ 7:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Good News, Sort of Bad News, and Bad News

    A warrant is used to collect evidence or arrest a suspect, a subpoena is used to require testimony, a court order is a court demanding some specific action.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Wally (profile), Jan 28th, 2013 @ 8:13pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Good News, Sort of Bad News, and Bad News

    :-) Precisely :-) You still need reasonable evidence to do this with a warrant. A warrant is a license to search for more evidence :-) No matter what though, Google still will have to determine the validity of a warrant to inform you as to why you are a suspect.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jan 28th, 2013 @ 8:38pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Good News, Sort of Bad News, and Bad News

    WHAT?!! "Subpoena, court order or Warrant"????? I think you just said the same thing three different ways.... They're all orders signed by a judge.

    You can get most subpoenas without a judge signing off...

     

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  22.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Jan 28th, 2013 @ 8:42pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    stop it.. just stop it... if you say the A or G word three times.. trolls appear EVERYWHERE!!!

    EVERYWHERE I tells ya! *rocks back and forth grinning evilly encased in the latest straight jacket fashion*

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Rekrul, Jan 28th, 2013 @ 10:56pm

    Now, if Google would only explain why they've chosen to implement mandatory filtering for all their search pages...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    Wally (profile), Jan 29th, 2013 @ 1:09am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Oy!!!! Funniest Comments of the week....the above comment deserves a spot!!! :-)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    The Real Michael, Jan 29th, 2013 @ 5:42am

    I don't use Google, Twitter or Facebook. If people are foolish enough to plaster their info all over the internet, that's their problem.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    acduah5, Jan 29th, 2013 @ 6:44am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    @weneedhelp: Ah, now I see what your mission is. You are apparently in love with the idea of getting one of your comments spammed out to everyone in the daily newsletter. Good luck with that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 29th, 2013 @ 9:38am

    Re: Re: % of requests that produce data still very high

    which again reads as if this is nothing to worry about because Google has got your back


    That's not how I read the article.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 29th, 2013 @ 9:39am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Since Google makes or breaks Techdirt


    Oh? Please explain this accusation, with supporting evidence.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 29th, 2013 @ 9:42am

    Re:

    You probably use Google whether you know it or not. And this problem isn't limited to people who intentionally publish their personal information. It's a problem that applies to everybody.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    DH's Love Child (profile), Jan 29th, 2013 @ 11:10am

    Re: Re: Re: Good News, Sort of Bad News, and Bad News

    "you are still having your 4th Amendment rights being violated by both parties"

    Um.. no you're not. Google is not a government entity, therefore you have no 4th amendment protection from them sifting through the data you provide to them. What they do with your data is outlined in their privacy policies, but that is not a 4th amendment issue. You have no 4th amendment protection from a private company.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
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    Wally (profile), Jan 29th, 2013 @ 4:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Good News, Sort of Bad News, and Bad News

    So a government agency isn't allowed....does it make Google any better for doing it themselves??? Either way your personal data is sifted through. Doesn't Google have a privacy clause preventing them from sifting through your personal e-mail?
    I do not see how Google can be praised for this when they sift through your data themselves...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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