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Big boost in U.S. requests for Google user data

Google reports that requests from U.S. agencies grew by some 30% in the first half of 2011

U.S. government requests for Google user data jumped nearly 30% in the first half of this year compared to the prior six months, the search vendor said this week.

A report released by Google on Tuesday showed that between January and June of this year, various U.S. law enforcement agencies made 5,950 requests for user data from Google accounts or services.

The U.S. made some 4,600 requests for similar data between June, 2010 and Dec. 2010, Google noted.

Google either fully or partially complied with the requests in 93% of the cases, according to the search engine giant's report.

Google released the numbers on Tuesday as part of an ongoing company effort to provide transparency about requests for user data and content removal by governments around the world.

For more than a year, the company has maintained a website called Transparency Report where it lists all content removal and user data requests by country.

The company yesterday updated the site with fresh information for the first six months of this year.

The latest report marks the first time that Google has disclosed both the number of requests -- which it has disclosed in the past -- and the number of users or accounts affected by those requests -- which wasn't disclosed in the past.

According to Google, content removal requests are typically those that seek the removal of specific content from search results or from services such as YouTube. Data requests seek information on specific users and accounts and are usually made in connection with ongoing criminal investigations, Google said.

"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," Google senior policy analyst Dorothy Chou said in a blog post yesterday.

The latest numbers released by Google show that law enforcement agencies in the U.S. made substantially more requests for user data than those in any other country.

The 5,950 U.S. government requests for data involved more than 11,050 users or accounts across Google's services, the company said.

The increase in the number of requests is not surprising "since each year we offer more products and services, and we have a larger number of users," Google said in its report.

In the first six months of this year, U.S. law enforcement agencies made 92 requests that Google remove specific content from its products, compared to just 54 in the previous six month.

Worldwide, Google was asked to remove 757 items including web search content, YouTube videos, images, and user content, on services such as Google Groups.

Google's report says that defamation was the most cited reason for web search content removal requests, while privacy and security were the most commonly cited reasons for video removal requests from YouTube.

Other countries making a significant number of requests for user data and content removal include the United Kingdom, Germany, India and France, Google said..

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan , or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is [email protected] .

Read more about privacy in Computerworld's Privacy Topic Center.


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