Google reveals legal processes the U.S. uses to get user information

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For the first time, search engine giant Google has revealed a breakdown of the kinds of legal process that U.S. government entities use when compelling it to hand over user data.

According to Google's most recent semi-annual transparency report, between July and December 2012, Google received 8,438 U.S. government requests for information about 14,791 users.

  • 68 percent of the requests Google received from government entities in the U.S. were through subpoenas. These are requests for user-identifying information, issued under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and are the easiest to get because they typically don't involve judges.
  • 22 percent were through ECPA search warrants. These are, generally speaking, orders issued by judges under ECPA, based on a demonstration of probable cause to believe that certain information related to a crime is presently in the place to be searched.
  • The remaining 10 percent were mostly court orders issued under ECPA by judges or other processes that are difficult to categorize.

Like other technology and communications companies, Google regularly receives requests from governments and courts around the world to hand over user data. The company reports that between July 2012 and December 2012 it fully or partially complied with 88 percent of the user data requests from the U.S. government. 

According to a Jan. 23 blog posting by Richard Salgado, the company's legal director for law enforcement and information security, Google overall received 21,389 requests for information about 33,634 users during the last six months of 2012.

Over the past three years, user data requests of all kinds have increased by more than 70 percent, reports the company. Salgado writes in his blog post that "it's important for people to understand how government actions affect them" and that Google is "always looking for ways to make the report even more informative."  

For more:
-go to the Google transparency report on U.S. data requests
- read the Salgado 's blog post

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