Google reveals why it hands over data - and why it doesn't

Search giant outlines how it fights government requests for user information

Stewart Mitchell
29 Jan 2013

Google has released details of how it tries to protect user data in the face of government requests for access, claiming the company fights to protect against snooping.

Google championed its data privacy credentials in a blog post, but it comes a week after it released a transparency report showing that in the US, for example, the search giant agrees to 88% of requests for information.

"It’s important for law enforcement agencies to pursue illegal activity and keep the public safe," Google said in a blog. "But it’s just as important that laws protect you against overly broad requests for your personal information."

The company said it had a team working on government requests for data, and would always require a search warrant or some other form of authorisation before releasing users content or personal data.

"We scrutinise 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 authorised official of the requesting agency and issued under an appropriate law," Google said in the post.

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 evaluate the scope of the request," the company added. "If it’s overly broad, we may refuse to provide the information or seek to narrow the request. We do this frequently."

However, the statistics Google released show it still gives up plenty of information, albeit under apparent duress.

In the US, for example, in the last six months of 2012, the company complied with 88% of 8,438 US requests for access to user data and 14,791 requests for information on users or accounts.

According to Google, those requests for user data "include those issued by US authorities for US investigations, as well as requests made on behalf of other governments pursuant to mutual legal assistance treaties and other diplomatic mechanisms".

The UK government had a tougher time getting information out of the company, succeeding with 70% of requests for data and account information, up from 64% in the first six months of 2012.

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