Google: Government Surveillance Requests Are Way Up—and the U.S. Is the Leader

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Nov. 14 2012 8:30 AM

Google: Government Surveillance Requests Are Way Up—and the U.S. Is the Leader

Google transparency
Requests from governments for Google to remove content

Chart courtesy Google

Skeptics often dismiss those concerned about growing levels of surveillance as paranoid conspiracy theorists. But Google’s latest transparency report, released Tuesday, shows the fears are grounded in reality: Government surveillance is on the rise.

Every six months Google publishes transparency reports to disclose how many requests it has received from government agencies to hand over user data or take down content. Yesterday's figures reveal Google received 20,938 inquiries from government entities around the world for user data in the first half of this year—a 55 percent increase in requests received during the same period in 2010. The United States by far made the most requests for user data, submitting more than one-third of the 20,938 received. India was second, followed by Brazil.

Google transparency2

Chart courtesy Google


Google does not comply with all requests, though most of the countries that asked for user data received information at least some of the time. Turkey, Russia, and Hungary among a handful that were rebuffed on all counts.

In its last transparency report, published in June, Google noted an “alarming” increase in government requests to remove content from its sites. The new report shows this trend has continued, with an 88 percent increase on removal applications between the first part of 2011 and the same period this year. It isn’t just authoritarian regimes requesting censorship: Google says between January and June, it turned down appeals from authorities in the United Kingdom, who wanted content criticizing police to be removed. It also denied a series of requests from the United States demanding the removal of content criticizing local and state government agencies, law enforcement, or public officials. Similarly, a police agency in Australia requesting the removal of a video making statements against members of law enforcement was declined.

The spike in surveillance and censorship reported by Google will probably not come as much of a surprise to regular readers of Future Tense. In the past few months alone, we have reported here on calls for an expansion of surveillance laws in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada. At the same time we have seen sophisticated spyware tools being used to target activists, academics and journalists in the Middle East; mounting criticism of how law U.S. enforcement agencies are using cell phone tracking techniques under a veil of intense secrecy; and some governments push for the power to hack and delete data from servers in foreign countries. Anxiety about surveillance and censorship has led to new encrypted communications platforms being launched, while officials in Europe are currently planning a groundbreaking new monitoring program to help chart digital repression by mapping the Internet’s "cyber geography" in near real time.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Ryan Gallagher is a journalist who reports on surveillance, security, and civil liberties.



Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B


Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
Sept. 18 2014 3:24 PM Symantec Removes Its “Sexual Orientation” Filter
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 3:30 PM How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Trick Women
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 3:04 PM Pogo Returns With Another Utterly Catchy Disney Remix
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.