Google: Surveillance 'is on the rise' -- though governments are not as tyrranical as you might think

posted Jan 2, 2013, 3:25 AM by Peter Joseph Moons
"Google: Surveillance 'is on the rise'" - The Hill

Google Transparency reports:

Google's Transparency report from the first half of 2012 shows a marked increase in the number of government requests in two categories: data on specific users as well as requests to remove data from the web.  In the span of two years, the number of government requests in the first category increased by about a third.  On the positive side, not all national government requests resulted in Google handing over user data to the requesting authority; Google has even verified the legitimacy of court orders requesting data, which is positive.  The trend shows, though, that as countries see that they can acquire data in some instances, they will seek more user data, and not just from Google but from other data hosters world-wide.  The discrepancy lies in the 'reasons' why countries are requesting data on users, since, as Google officials themselves state, "Laws surrounding these issues vary by country..."  

The reasons most governments request the removal of content are "defamation," typically against a government or a governmental official at various levels and "privacy and security," which is a broad area and should be further defined.  Since the world is conglomeration of national governments with individual laws, and only very few international agreements that supersede national laws, individual governments will continue to ask for data based on a wide range of laws, which are not universally applicable or standardized.

To better improve the statistics, without becoming unwieldy, Google should consider breaking down the categories of requests on users and data removal.  Transparency will allow for better oversight as well as improve the process by which governments make requests and anticipate a response to those requests.  

Lastly, noteworthy in Google's Transparency reports are the lack of countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia requesting user data.  Obviously, an overlay showing internet connectivity would point to dramatically lower usage in those regions compared to Europe, North America, etc.  Conversely, Iran and China's requests for user data or data removal is low, as governments in these countries have blocked to some of their sites for years.