San Francisco: Google is rebuffing governments more frequently as authorities in the US and other countries get more aggressive about mining the Internet for information about people's online activities.
The latest snapshot emerged Thursday in the Google Transparency Report that the company has released every six months for the past three years. Several other companies, including Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and Yahoo, have since followed Google's practice of disclosing government requests for personal data, which cover such things as email communications and the search queries made.
The breakdown for the first half of this year shows that Google received 25,879 legal requests for people's data from governments around the world. That represented a 21 per cent increase from the six months before that. It's also more than twice the number of government requests that Google was fielding at the end of 2009.
US authorities accounted for 10,918 of the requests during the first half of the year, more than anywhere else. They came from federal authorities as well as police departments around the country. The number has nearly tripled since the end of 2009.
India is also consistent in maintaining its second position behind the United States in user data requests from Google. In the six month period Indian authorities made 2,691 requests related to 4,161 users/accounts. This is a growth of about 11 per cent since the last Google Transparency Report. Google complied with 64 per cent of the requests from India.
"And these numbers only include the requests we're allowed to publish," wrote Richard Salgado, Google's legal director of law enforcement and information security.
The Google Transparency Report didn't provide specifics about the number of orders that Google has been receiving through a confidential US court set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to fight terrorism.
Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo all are suing for the right to share more detailed information about the FISA demands made by the National Security Agency and the FBI. The technology companies believe that more forthrightness will ease privacy concerns raised by NSA documents that depicted them as willing participants in a US spying program dubbed PRISM.
The Obama administration is opposing the transparency-seeking lawsuits, maintaining that more detailed disclosures would make it more difficult to sniff out terrorist plots.
Thursday's report also didn't mention the clandestine ways that the NSA may be grabbing personal data without asking permission. Citing documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, The Washington Post last month revealed that the agency has been hacking into communications lines connecting the data centers of Google and Yahoo to intercept information about what people do and say online.
Governments zero in on Google because its services have become staples of our digital-driven lives. Besides running the Internet's most dominant search engine, Google owns the popular video site YouTube, operates blogging and email services and distributes Android, the top operating system on mobile phones. Google says its social network, Plus, now has 540 million active users.
Google's latest disclosures show that the Mountain View, company is rejecting a higher percentage of government demands than it was when it began releasing the figures three years ago. That trend reflects Google's belief that the governments frequently don't have a legal justification for obtaining the requested information.
In the first half of this year, Google provided some of the information sought in 83 per cent of the government requests in the US. During the same period in 2010, the compliance rate was 93 per cent.
Worldwide compliance rates were lower, but showed a similar downward trend.
After the US and India, the governments peppering Google with the most requests were in Germany (2,311) and France (2,011).
Google's latest report "illustrates the government's steadily growing appetite for more data from more users," said Leslie Harris, president of the Centre for Democracy & Technology, a civil rights group.
(With inputs from Associated Press)