Google confirms: ‘Government surveillance is on the rise’
Internet giant Google published statistics from their latest analysis of requests from governments around the globe this week, and the findings show that it is hardly just the inboxes of the Pentagon’s top-brass that are being put under the microscope. Details pertaining to nearly 8,000 Google and Gmail accounts have been ordered by Uncle Sam during just the first six months of the year, and figures from the periods before suggest that things aren’t about to get any better for those wishing to protect their privacy.
“This is the sixth time we’ve released this data, and one trend has become clear: Government surveillance is on the rise,” Google acknowledges in a blog post published Tuesday, November 13.
From January through June, the US government filed more than 16,000 requests for user data from Google on as many as 7,969 individual accounts, the report shows.
The Silicon Valley company notes that “The number of requests we receive for user account information as part of criminal investigations has increased year after year,” but says that it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the government that’s ramping up the acceleration into a full-blown surveillance state. According to Google’s take, “The increase isn’t surprising, since each year we offer more products and services, and we have a larger number of users.”
For all of those requests in the US, Google says they complied with the government’s demands 90 percent of the time; but while it seems like a high number, that figure actually constitutes the smallest success rate the feds have had since Google began tracking these numbers in 2010. In a separate report published earlier this year by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the San Francisco-based advocacy group awarded Google high praise for doing more than other industry titans in terms of letting feds force them into handing over information without good reason, citing specifically their efforts — albeit unsuccessfully — in handing over user info to the Justice Department during the start of its ongoing investigation into WikiLeaks.
Of the 20,938 user data request sent from governments around the globe, the United States came in first with the number of demands at 7,969, with India at a distant second with 2,319 requests. The US government’s success rate in terms of getting that information trumps most every other country, however, with full or partial compliance on the part of Google rarely exceeding 70 percent.
Elsewhere in the report, Google says it’s more than just surveillance of individual users that is on the rise. The US has also been adamant with censoring the Web, writing Google five times between January and June to take down YouTube videos critical of government, law enforcement or public officials. In regards to the five pleas to delete seven offending videos, Google says, “We did not remove content in response to these requests.”
The company was more willing to side with authorities in other cases, though, admitting to taking down 1,664 posts from a Google Groups community after a court order asked for the removal of 1,754 on the basis of “a case of continuous defamation against a man and his family.” Google also followed through with around one-third of the requests to remove search results that linked to websites that allegedly defamed organizations and individuals (223 of the 641 pleas) and say “the number of content removal requests we received increased by 46% compared to the previous reporting period.”
According to the report, Google only received one request from the US government to remove a video from YouTube on the grounds of ensuring “national security” but does not disclose the results of that plea. No further information is available in the report as to what the government demanded removed, but in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi originally blamed by many on an anti-Islamic video clip linked to a California man, Google rejected demands from the US to delete the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ from YouTube.
That isn’t to say that Washington is responsible for the bulk of the demands that end up on the desks of Google’s administrators. The report notes Google has received requests to remove search results that link to sites that host alleged copyright-infringing content more than 8 million times in just the last month, with more than 32,000 websites being singled out by the materials’ respective owners. Taking into account the last year and a half, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) — the largest trade-group representing the US music industry — asked Google to stop linking to roughly 4.5 million URLs that they say hosted illegal content.
Last month, the Supreme Court heard arguments to decide whether or not a case can go forth that will challenge the FISA Amendment Act of 2008, an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that allows the government to eavesdrop on emails sent as long as one of the persons involved is suspected of being out of the country. When asked earlier in the year to give an estimate of how many Americans have their electronic communications wiretapped by the National Security Administration, the inspector general of the NSA declined to issue a response, even to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
According to statements made by NSA whistleblower Bill Binney at the Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE) conference in New York this year, the US government is “pulling together all the data about virtually every US citizen in the country and assembling that information, building communities that you have relationships with, and knowledge about you; what your activities are; what you're doing."