Why & How Google Hands Over Users’ Data to Governments

big-dataGoogle has followed up last week’s transparency report update – which revealed that government requests have risen by 70 percent over the last two years – with a little more information on how it deals with and why it responds to government data requests.

David Drummond, Google SVP and chief legal officer, wrote in a blog post that the company receives dozens of requests a day from government agencies seeking users‘ account information. Google must respond to these requests in the correct manner, and that means respecting the rights of all parties, Drummond wrote.

“It’s important for law enforcement agencies to pursue illegal activity and keep the public safe. We’re a law-abiding company, and we don’t want our services to be used in harmful ways,” he added. “But it’s just as important that laws protect you against overly broad requests for your personal information.”

So how does Google handle requests? Drummond explained that when Google is able to, it notifies users that someone has come knocking for their information – whether it’s search query history, Gmail messages, documents, photos, or YouTube videos – giving them time to prepare a legal response, and it also demands that government agencies arrive with a search warrant.


“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,” he said, as an example. “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.”

Additionally, Google will continue its advocacy of updates to the U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Google has also added a more detailed section that explains the hows and whys of a data requests.

This article was originally published on the Inquirer.

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