THE GUARDIAN: Google faced down demands from a US law enforcement agency to take down YouTube videos allegedly showing police brutality earlier this year, figures released for the first time show. The technology giant’s biannual transparency report shows that Google refused the demands from the unnamed authority in the first half of this year. According to the report, Google separately declined orders by other police authorities to remove videos that allegedly defamed law enforcement officials. The demands formed part of a 70% rise in takedown requests from the US government or police, and were revealed as part of an effort to highlight online censorship around the world. Figures revealed for the first time show that the US demanded private information about more than 11,000 Google users between January and June this year, almost equal to the number of requests made by 25 other developed countries, including the UK and Russia. Governments around the world requested private data about 25,440 people in the first half of this year, with 11,057 of those people in the US. It is the first time Google has released details about how many of its users are targeted by authorities. MORE
CNET: But the truly interesting data are the statistics on requests made to the company by governments for either access to user data or to remove content. Some countries had large amounts of user data requests. The United States leads that pack, with 5,950 such requests pertaining to more than 11,000 users or accounts, and to which Google complied 93 percent of the time. That’s up from about 4,600 requests in the second half of last year. Other countries seeking lots of user data were India (more than 1,700 requests involving more than 2,400 accounts), France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Google says it complied most of the time in those cases, except in France. The actual numbers are likely larger than what is reported because Google is prohibited by law from revealing information on requests from intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency or FBI, notes online privacy advocate Chris Soghoian, who released a report on law enforcement surveillance earlier this year. “Google doesn’t say how many of the thousands of requests they get a year are compelled (via a formal legal process) and how many are emergency requests,” which they aren’t obligated to comply with, he said. “This is where Google could truly demonstrate its commitment to privacy…We know that Verizon gets 90,000 requests a year, and 25,000 are emergency requests for which there is no court order. It’s likely Google is getting a similar percentage.” MORE
THREAT LEVEL: Threat Level recently asked Google some questions about how much user data it turns over to the government, which, apparently, Google “declined to [answer] adequately.” The putatively inadequate answer, provided by Google spokesman Brian Richardson, runs as follows.
We don’t talk about types or numbers of requests to help protect all our users. Obviously, we follow the law like any other company. When we receive a subpoena or court order, we check to see if it meets both the letter and the spirit of the law before complying. And if it doesn’t we can object or ask that the request is narrowed. We have a track record of advocating on behalf of our users.
It seems reasonable to be worried about any inconsistencies in Google’s transparency policy, a fact which is strongly reinforced given the suspicion that Google receives tens of thousands of law enforcement and other requests each year for data, and, of course, actively recruits us to its operating system, browser, DNS servers, search service, e-mail service and phonecalling programs. That’s an enormous amount of data with which we’re entrusting them. MORE
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