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    Google Announces Changes to Transparency Report, Adds Law Enforcement Request Details

    Adam Holland, January 25, 2013

    Abstract: Google has updated their Transparency Report yet again, this time to include a wealth of new data on requests from law enforcement, broken down by the type of request”

    Weather report 2013-01-24

    Google has updated their Transparency Report yet again, this time to include a wealth of new data on requests from law enforcement, broken down by the type of request”
    The number of requests like these have increased dramatically, and more entities are taking an interest in the information they represent, or that underlies them. Chilling Effects has recently received several inquiries from businesses and other entities interested in being able to view and study this sort of data in the aggregate. To the extent that it is not already, this category of request will be part of our database in the near future.

    [As an aside, if you are a company who receives requests for user data from law enforcement, Chilling Effects is eager to add the notices you receive to our database. Please don’t hesitate to contact us. We would be glad to answer any questions that you might have.]

    One thing that Internet users might be concerned about is the extent to which companies are complying with these requests without considering whether it is necessary, or even legal, to do so. Google may be nearly alone in challenging some, although they have acceded in whole or in part to 88% of those received. Here, the ACLU criticizes the lack of a bandwagon, so to speak.

    Why aren’t other companies following suit? Perhaps part of the reason is, at some level, fear, or at least reflexive cooperation. As much as the Supreme Court might want to have it otherwise, there’s no reason to think that private companies, especially ones with less stature than Google, feel any less under compulsion when dealing with law enforcement than individuals. Or is there? Consider that the phone companies were granted retroactive immunity through the FISA Amendments Acts for what might well otherwise have been a massive breach of user rights.
    Then, of course, there’s the other end of that spectrum, which is that companies might be eager to assist, hoping that showing voluntary and cooperative compliance will get them favorable treatment. Or it might simply be Regardless of why companies give their info to the law, one thing is clear. It happens a lot. Google —just Google— received around 16000 requests in 2012. Law enforcement requests to wireless carriers totaled 1.3 million in 2011., to say nothing of “tower dumps” which count as a single request. Sprint alone received 500,00 subpoena requests in 2011.
    And let’s not even start talking about fusion centers, GPS data or other means of electronic communication.

    These requests for user data, and how easily they are typically granted, got, and are getting, a lot of attention.

    One of the most salient issues is email, and how long it must be stored before law enforcement can see it without procuring a warrant first. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act requires a warrant only for email stored by the provider less than 180 days. That may have made sense at one time, when users stored emails on their personal machines, but in the modern era of cloud-based services and storage, it’s ridiculous. It strains credulity to assert that the average Gmail or Hotmail user thinks the emails in their archive become fair game for law enforcement after six months. Even people who assume their email is or might be examined can still get tangled up with the law, sometimes with serious and far-reaching consequences.

    As Chris Soghoian has repeatedly pointed out, all that’s needed for law enforcement to get access to your email is a subpoena. That means no judicial oversight. If the Director of the CIA is vulnerable, what hope does the average user have.

    [As another aside, if this is the kind of thing you are especially interested in, you owe it to yourself to be reading Chris Soghoian]

    All this is by way of pointing out that law enforcement is asking to see user data far more frequently than you may realize, and secretly, at that. Google deserves credit for taking this step, but what’s really needed is a shift in popular consciousness that this sort of thing is not acceptable, and that if the laws that exist aren’t adequate to protect electronic communications under the Aegis of the 4th Amendment, then they need to be rewritten.


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