Following hot on the heels of Apple’s first ever transparency report, Google has just updated its transparency report for the eighth time this year, showing that requests for user information by governments have more than doubled since Google first stated releasing the reports in 2010.
‘Over the past three years, we’ve continued to add more details to the report, and we’re doing so again today. We’re including additional information about legal process for U.S. criminal requests: breaking out emergency disclosures, wiretap orders, pen register orders and other court orders.’
Google, who is has been both vocal and active in its campaign to be allowed transparency about it what it hands over to the US government, was keen to point out that ‘these numbers only include the requests we’re allowed to publish,’ which leaves the door wide open to wonder about what it was not allowed to publish. As you can see in the above Infographic from Google, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests have been blacked out.
Ever since Edward Snowden’s PRISM revelations about Google (and other tech companies’) complicity in the NSA’s blanket surveillance scheme, it has been keen to restore its damaged reputation, on the one hand insisting that it had no choice but to comply with the NSA and its secret gagging orders, and on the other pushing to be allowed greater transparency about the information it provides upon such requests. Regarding this report,
‘We want to go even further. We believe it’s your right to know what kinds of requests and how many each government is making of us and other companies. However, the U.S. Department of Justice contends that U.S. law does not allow us to share information about some national security requests that we might receive. Specifically, the U.S. government argues that we cannot share information about the requests we receive (if any) under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But you deserve to know.’
Google points out the efforts it has made towards improving transparency,
‘Earlier this year, we brought a federal case to assert that we do indeed have the right to shine more light on the FISA process. In addition, we recently wrote a letter of support (PDF) for two pieces of legislation currently proposed in the U.S. Congress,’ and calls on ‘governments around the world to uphold international legal agreements that respect the laws of different countries and guarantee standards for due process are met.’
While it is easy to sneer and be cynical at such rhetoric, Google are reportedly genuinely furious at the recent revelations that the NSA has been tapping the communications links between its international servers, and if real change is to be made on how governments and security organisations treat the public’s privacy, the support of heavy hitting tech giants such as Google will be invaluable. We therefore applaud Google’s push for greater transparency and hope, that as part of a wider effort to strip down the power of the NSA (and similar organisations across the world), it succeeds in its mission.
In the meantime, using VPN will protect your identity on the internet (including when using Google as long as you are not logging into any of its services at the time), and you might want to consider changing your search engine to provider who does not log your search requests, such as Duckduckgo.