Government demands for Google user data skyrocket

Google says it's getting more requests for user data than ever before, while simultaneously pressuring the US government to change how it regulates electronic communications.

Seth Rosenblatt
Seth Rosenblatt Former Senior Writer / News
Senior writer Seth Rosenblatt covered Google and security for CNET News, with occasional forays into tech and pop culture. Formerly a CNET Reviews senior editor for software, he has written about nearly every category of software and app available.
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Google reports that government requests for user data are up worldwide. Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

Worldwide government requests for Google's users data have shot up 150 percent in five years, according to an update to the search giant's Transparency Report.

Government requests for user information -- such as registration information, emails and IP addresses -- are up 15 percent in the first half of 2014, and up 150 percent since the report was first published in 2009, wrote Richard Salgado, Google's legal director of law enforcement and information security, in a blog post on Monday. In the US, government requests for user data are up 19 percent and 250 percent, respectively.

In total, Google received 31,698 government requests for user information during the first half of this year, and it complied -- either in part or whole -- with 65 percent of those requests.

The figures do not include National Security Letters (NSL) or requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which have been at the heart of revelations about US surveillance programs leaked in documents by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Salgado said that Google has "seen some countries expand their surveillance authorities in an attempt to reach service providers outside their borders."

Salgado also encouraged the US government to adopt "historic" surveillance reform by reforming the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and passing the USA FREEDOM Act. Proposed changes to ECPA would prevent authorities from demanding that businesses turn over user data without a search warrant, while the USA FREEDOM Act would allow companies like Google to be more forthcoming about government requests for user data and create stronger oversight of those requests.

Both bills have bipartisan support in the US House of Representatives and Senate, although it's not clear if either will move forward during an election year when Senate control is up for grabs.

Google says in its Transparency Report FAQ that government agency requests for user data include investigating criminal activity, courts, administrative agencies, and unspecified "others."