While many thought the controversy caused by the NSA, FISA and all sorts of government initiatives for monitoring communication and requesting access to user information would die down, Google is not letting it. In fact, the company — which, along with Microsoft, is one of the few begging to be able to be more transparent with their users — went so far as to sue for the right to share more information.
So what can they share with us now? Well, a little bit, but how much of it is useful to you will depend on what you were hoping to learn. For starters, Google has revealed that FISA requests for national security reasons have more than doubled worldwide since 2009, and more than tripled in the United States alone in that same time period.
Unfortunately, that’s as much as they are allowed to give us. It’s one thing to censor the types of requests, but the fact that they can’t even share the amount of requests is alarming — what actual harm is there in knowing how many requests there have been?
What we do know
Google was allowed to share a bit more, though, such as which countries request the most information (of any type) from January 2013 through June 2013. The United States was, by far, the most nosy country, with nearly 11,000 requests (the next closest was India with just 2,700).
Of the United States’ requests, a combined 90% were for the purpose of gathering subpoenas and warrants. Other court orders, pen register orders and emergency disclosure reports (information needed to avert a crisis, such as death) accounted for the remaining 10%.
Interestingly enough, the US also lead the rest of the world in the amount of data they were actually able to obtain from each request. Google illustrates that they were able to produce meaningful, relevant data for 83% of the requests (the next highest was the United Kingdom at 67%).
This transparency report is the latest in Google’s attempt to get the government to allow them to release information pertaining to FISA requests. Google wants users to know that they don’t want to be sneaky — being upfront, honest, and clear is the only way they want to be. That alone awards them another few brownie points under their “don’t be evil” mantra that they’ve always operated by.
We might not ever get the information we want due to government secrecy, but we’ll never know if things can change unless we try. Kudos to El Goog for deciding to take the charge. Read the full transparency report here if you’re interested.