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Google releases Transparency Report

Google recently released its tenth Transparency Report, a document which reveals some disheartening information about government requests for user data worldwide. The data contained in the report details the number of law enforcement agency requests for information received by Google and YouTube, the percentage of requests that Google complies with – as allowed by law – and the number of users or accounts named in the requests. The recent report, published on September 15, contains data for the first half of 2014.

According to the report, government requests, globally, increased by 150 percent since 2009 and 15 percent from the end of last year. The numbers do not reflect, however, requests pertaining to the National Security Letters or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance, reported 

Google disclosed that, for the first half of 2014, 31,698 requests were made, which are in connection with 48,000 accounts. In 65 percent of the cases, Google was able to comply with the requests and provide information.

U.S. leads the list
The U.S. made the most requests (12,539), followed by Germany (3,338) and France (3,002). In the U.S., demand for information increased by 19 since last year and has more than tripled since 2009. President Barack Obama, in January, asked Congress to essentially enlarge surveillance efforts after the events with National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden, transpired.

Richard Salgado, Legal Director at Google's Law Enforcement and Information Security department, makes note that countries are asking the company for information not just within their own nations, but internationally as well (Google Public Policy Blog).

"This increase in government demands comes against a backdrop of ongoing revelations about government surveillance programs. Despite these revelations, we have seen some countries expand their surveillance authorities in an attempt to reach service providers outside their borders," wrote Salgado.

Several American technology companies have called for changes after their international business experienced decline. Some foreign governments, worried that American companies would collect information and submit it to spy agencies, have limited their dealings, reported Reuters.

A call for reform
Google's Richard Salgado, in the company's Public Policy blog, urges congress to embrace reforms that would help recover confidence in privacy and the rule of law.

"In the remaining days of this session, Congress has a chance to pass historic legislation that will help restore trust that has been lost. We urge them to seize upon this opportunity," writes Salgado.

The reforms are backed by the Digital Due Process coalition, an entity comprised of consumer groups, companies and trade associations. They ask policy makers, namely congress, to approve two laws: The USA Freedom Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. More than 100,000 people have signed a petition urging the White House to back the laws. Additionally, 266 House Members – a majority of the house – have given their bipartisan support.

The USA Freedom Act would prevent legal authorities from obtaining pools of Internet metadata and would also allow Google to be more transparent with regards to the amount, type and classification of requests they receive for national security purposes.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act would necessitate that the government obtain a search warrant before asking an internet company to disclose account information, thus protecting the Fourth Amendment rights of Internet users.

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