U.S. Law enforcement requests for Google user info up 31%; nearly half of all requests globally

By SB Anderson

U.S. law enforcement requests for data about Google users set a new record, data that Google released about the second half of the year yesterday showed.

Wielding subpoenas in 2 out of 3 cases, agencies asked 21,500 times — 59 times a day — for information about nearly 40,000 users and/or accounts. Unlike court orders and warrants, subpoenas are not necessarily issued by a court.

The number of requests was down slightly in the second half of the year (3%) and the number of users/accounts was down a bit more (16%). It is unclear whether the enormous publicity over monitoring of personal data after Edward Snowden released a plethora of explosive NSA documents in the Spring may have been a factor in the slight decline. The drop in the second half of 2013 as the first ever reported on a half-year basis since Google started releasing the data after the second half of 2009.

The data released on Thursday focused on requests that are unrelated to national security, i.e., involving the National Security Agency, FBI and secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Aggregate data about those cases was released in February after the Obama administration slightly reduced restrictions on public release.

Google has been releasing the so-called “Transparency Reports” since 2009; some of its peers and competitors didn’t follow suit until the last year. The requests from law enforcement in some cases cover just information about an account holder or user, such as address; in other cases, authorities ask for actual content produced by the user (e.g., Gmail, YouTube, etc.). In 2013, at least some data was released in just over 4 in 5 cases.

The U.S. by far remained the leader in requests, accounting for 43% of all requests (up slightly over the first half), distantly followed by France, Germany and India in the second half of the year. The number of countries that made requests was up in the second half of the year, but about half were for 20 or fewer.

Requests by year and number of accounts affected

Broken down by first and second halves of years

Types of orders

For good measure, Google released this animated cartoon about how it deals with warrants.