Former General David Petraeus becomes one of the more than 7,969 Google users whose personal data has been usurped by the government for investigative purposes. In the first six months of 2012 alone, Google responded to the government’s request for personal information for over 20,000 private customer accounts. Last week, Google released its bi-annual “Transparency Report”, which documents the number of government requests for private individual information. Google reports that it typically complies with 90% of the information requests. That is an increase of 2,681 governmental requests since the last half of 2011.
As the report clearly demonstrates, government surveillance activity is increasing at an alarming rate. This is the sixth Transparency report published by Google that reflects increased surveillance activities every year for the last three years. In addition to emails, information such as Google Drive accounts, IP addresses and other stored data is included in the government requests. Google receives requests for personal data from governments located across the globe. The U.S. is easily the most prolific seeker of the personal data of Google users. Interestingly, India comes in at #2 for information requests. Google also entertains requests to have certain information removed from platforms such as YouTube, blog posts and other content.
Law enforcement and other agencies are legally allowed to take advantage of loopholes in existing law that permits government entities to collect anyone’s personal information and conduct electronic eavesdropping on them through the internet. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which became law in 1986, was not originally intended to be used to monitor the internet and cell phones which were non-existent at the law’s inception.
Prior to the law’s enactment, recently developed technology such as cell phones, Wi-Fi and texting were not considered as requiring a court order in order to be legally intercepted. Clearly, the government is embracing this loophole as an excuse to deprive all of us of our basic right to privacy. It is hoped that as awareness of this undesirable government intervention spreads, changes will be made to the law that is more in keeping with the spirit of our constitutional rights.