Google’s latest transparency report reveals a major uptick in U.S. law enforcement user data requests over the past four years, illustrating a grave concern of civil liberties groups fighting to modernize a 1980s-era electronic surveillance law.
On Thursday, Google released its biannual government transparency report, highlighting a 203 percent increase since 2009 in law enforcement requests in the U.S. for user data.
Between July and December 2009, according to the report, the law enforcement agencies in the U.S. requested user data 3,580 times for an undisclosed number of accounts.
During the first six months of 2013, law enforcement agencies in the U.S. made 10,918 requests for data pertaining to 21,683 accounts.
Google is one of several U.S. tech companies, including Microsoft and Twitter, pushing for more government transparency involving user data requests during law enforcement and national security investigations.
Google does not disclose in its report how many user requests it granted in 2009; the company does report, however, that it produced at least “some data” for 83 percent of U.S. law enforcement requests in 2013.
Privacy and civil liberties groups were quick to trumpet the report as further evidence of the need to modernize the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, which governs how law enforcement accesses stored electronic communications such as email, texts, and online chats.
“Because a subpoena was used in these cases and not a warrant, it is unlikely that the person or accounts targeted by law enforcement agencies were aware that their content held by Google was read, and it is also unlikely that there was judicial oversight of the request,” blogged Katie McAuliffe, Executive Director for Digital Liberty at Americans for Tax Reform.
Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel at the ACLU’s Washington Legislation Office, wrote in a statement to the press, “If police need a warrant to open someone’s mail than they should need one to rifle through someone’s email, regardless of its age or if it’s stored on a company’s server.”
“It’s time Congress and the president updated ECPA so there’s only one standard for government access to the content of our electronic communications: a warrant based upon probable cause. Anything less is indefensible,” said Calabrese.