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How Google Handles Government Requests for Your Emails

It has always been a mystery on how Google handles data requests from the government  agencies and courts that happens “dozens” of times a year. In fact these requests are up 70% for these types of requests. Google wants to keep your information private <insert hilarious laughter here> and goes through great pains to make sure that before it does offer up any of your personal information or data to advertisers these government agencies or courts that it first is done in a proper way. Today they let us know what that way is.

Google says that it first supports and advocates the U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act and are members of the “Digital Due Process coalition and other initiatives.” Second when they receive a request, they do the following:

  • We scrutinize the request carefully to make sure it satisfies the law and our policies. For us to consider complying, it generally must be made in writing, signed by an authorized official of the requesting agency and issued under an appropriate law.
  • We evaluate the scope of the request. If it’s overly broad, we may refuse to provide the information or seek to narrow the request. We do this frequently.
  • We notify users about legal demands when appropriate so that they can contact the entity requesting it or consult a lawyer. Sometimes we can’t, either because we’re legally prohibited (in which case we sometimes seek to lift gag orders or unseal search warrants) or we don’t have their verified contact information.
  • We require that government agencies conducting criminal investigations use a search warrant to compel us to provide a user’s search query information and private content stored in a Google Account—such as Gmail messages, documents, photos and YouTube videos. We believe a warrant is required by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure and overrides conflicting provisions in ECPA.
  • We work hard to provide you with information about government requests. Today, for example, we’ve added a new section to our Transparency Report that answers many questions you might have. And last week we released data showing that government requests continue to rise, along with additional details on the U.S. legal processes—such as subpoenas, court orders and warrants—that government use to compel us to provide this information.

Well that is as clear as mud. Some other information that is pretty interesting that should keep Simmons occupied for days is that they release by country the requests for data they receive, and even more interesting the requests they approve and give a percentage. Check it out here.

Another interesting part of the Google Transparency Report is this:

Has Google successfully narrowed requests before?

Yes, we often successfully narrow the scope of requests. For example, in 2006 Google was the only major search company that refused a U.S. government request to hand over two months’ of user search queries. We objected to the subpoena, and eventually a court denied the government’s request. In some cases we receive a request for all information associated with a Google account, and we may ask the requesting agency to limit it to a specific product or service.

Looks like Google is bigger than Big Brother! Well, maybe not that big yet. But some pretty interesting stuff to say the least. For more information or to request a copy of Doug Simmons emails head on over to their Transparency Report Page or check out their blog post from today.


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