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Google Reports: Government Surveillance on the Rise

by Kate Morris, published
Credit: Digital Trends

government surveillance

After the focus on President Obama’s election subsided, global media turned its attention to another scandal within the halls of American government. The extramarital debacle of CIA head, General Petraeus, and questionable e-mail exchanges between Afghanistan commander, General George Allen, and a Florida woman. Both scandals were unearthed by the FBI through hacking into the generals’ e-mail accounts.

Yesterday, Google released its biannual transparency report on its official blog. The focus of the report was, appropriately, the sharp increase in government requests and activity over the past 12 months. “This is the sixth time we’ve released this data, and one trend has become clear: government surveillance is on the rise,” wrote Senior Policy Analyst Dorothy Chou.

From January through June of 2012, the majority of these requests came to Google from the US government, with 7,969 requests involving 16,281 user accounts. Through an intensive vetting process, Google complied with approximately 90 percent of these requests. India’s government ranked a distant second with 2,319 data requests and 3,467 accounts involved. Google complied with 64 percent of those requests.

“The number of government requests to remove content from our services was largely flat from 2009 to 2011. But it’s spiked in this reporting period,” Chou wrote.

Since the latter half of 2009, government online surveillance has nearly doubled, with a substantial spike in the past twelve months. At the same time, Google’s analyst did not feel as though the increase was particularly surprising, “since each year we offer more products and services.”

There are additional trends in the nature of government claims, with a higher rate of government takedown requests. Most of these operations are related to defamation, privacy, and security.

According to PC World's analysis, Google is a leader in its “surveillance policies when it comes to safeguarding consumers.” While the company does comply with legitimate governmental requests, the tech giant does have its limitations. Google also has “a record of resisting overly broad government requests in courts.”

Apparently, yesterday’s report is just the tip of the iceberg. “The information we disclose is only an isolated sliver showing how governments interact with the Internet,” Chou wrote.

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