Google is reporting an increase in U.S. government requests for user data, as the search giant advocates for transparency in an increasingly regulated Internet.
The company’s Transparency Report reveals the government’s inquiries shot up by one-third from January to June of this year.
Google acknowledges complying with 90 percent of the government’s demands, which totaled around 11,000 and mostly dealt with criminal matters. The search giant added it honored 60 percent of requests to remove 757 allegedly defaming YouTube videos.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company is alone among major tech businesses to release data about its compliance with government investigations.
“We hope others join us in the effort to provide more transparency, so we’ll be better able to see the bigger picture of how regulatory environments affects the entire Web,” said Dorothy Chou, senior policy analyst at Google.
“We believe that providing this level of detail highlights the need to modernize laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which regulates government access to user information and was written 25 years ago,” Chou added.
Google’s desire to overhaul the ECPA underscores the company’s overall goal to “help in ongoing discussions about the appropriate scope and authority of government requests.”
In the U.S., this debate is going strong as governments struggle to balance personal privacy with public safety in technology.
Google’s obligatory compliance with the U.S. request for WikiLeaks information, for example, sparked debate over warrantless digital data collection.
A New York judge also characterized governmental cell phone tracking “Orwellian,” saying the ECPA’s provision for this activity violates citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights. Accordingly, various courts refuse to issue warrants for the purpose.
On the other hand, Michigan state police are allowed to confiscate and search mobile phones without warrants, as they argue geolocation and other data may assist in solving crimes.
In Arizona, police may soon use handheld facial recognition scanners to assist police in identifying potential criminals.
The U.S. government is still debating how far to go in collecting private digital data for use in criminal and other investigations. Google’s attempt at transparency in this arena puts the issue front and center, paving the way for more discussion and eventually consistent policies.