This Monday Google said that government demands 150 % more information on company’s users compared to the numbers when the company published their numbers for the first time, in 2009. Over the same time period the number of requests from the US government increased by 250%.
The latest transparency report from Google shows that in the first half of 2014 government requested 15% more information than the second half of 2013. Meanwhile, the US government requested 19% more information.
According to Google legal director Richard Salgado this data shows that government contradicts the idea of revelations about revelations about surveillance programs. He also pointed out that some other countries are also trying to expand their surveillance authorities in order to obtain desirable information from service providers outside their borders. Richard Salgado said that this trend is increasing and other countries are also planning on making similar measures.
In Richard Salgado’s eyes government has legitimate reason to obtain information from various service providers as that information may be very important while fighting crime and identifying possible national security threats. However, in his opinion there is a need for a legislative reform that would ensure the laws enabling government to obtain such information are transparent and subject to independent oversight. Otherwise public confidence in government and technology will not be maintained at the current level which, many might argue, is not at a level that ensure confidence and trust in government’s actions.
The report also states that Google wants to increase the transparency for their users. However, due to the fact that they are limited in what information they can publish regarding requests from Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and information collected by National Security Agency (NSA) under national security letters (NSL). Nevertheless, Richard Salgado says that Google is prohibited by FBI to publish such information for 6 months after the request was completed. Therefor, the report provides data from the second half of 2013 although it is not very specific as Google only give the range of number of requests made by FISA and NSL. The number of requests under FISA Google received during that period was in a range from 0 to 999. Requests under NSL fell in the same range.
Richard Salgado also brought up Google’s support for the USA Freedom Act that was introduced by senators Mike Lee, Dean Heller, Al Franken and Patrick Leahy. The act would prevent information containing origins and target of the call or e-mail, time of it and other important information. If this legislation is enacted it will allow Google to be more transparent about the demands they receive from government. Furthermore, it would allow Google to create better oversight and accountability mechanisms.
Richard Salgado then mentioned the need to update Electronic Communications Privacy Act in a way that would require the government to have a search warrant in order to request a service provider for the content of a user’s communication. Additionally, Richard Salgado not only mentioned that the reform is supported by various groups, associations and companies, he also said that the petition, urging the White House to update the act, was signed by more than 100,000 people and it is supported by the majority of the House Members. He also added that if the act is updated in a way it is proposed now, it will be a historic legislation that is going to help restore trust in government.