Every day the government asks Google for seven items of UK citizens’ personal data
In an interactive tool released by Google this week, called the Transparency Report, it was revealed that between January and June this year the government made 1,343 requests for information on users of the company’s services. These include YouTube and Gmail.
This was the highest figure in Europe, beating 1,017 requests from the French government and 668 from Germany. It was also the fourth highest figure in the world, behind the 4,287 requests of the US government, the 2,435 requests by Brazil and 1,430 by India.
Government authorities normally ask to access the data as a means of aiding criminal investigations. Data includes users’ IP addresses and registration information.
But David Drummond, senior VP and chief legal officer at Google, wrote in a blog on Monday that the company was releasing the figures as a “deterrent to censorship”. He added: “We hope this step toward greater transparency - and these tools - will help in ongoing discussions about the free flow of information.”
In Britain, the government also asked Google on 48 occasions to remove different items of data, concerning 232 items online. Around six in 10 of these requests were at least partially fulfilled by Google.
The government has also demonstrated its willingness to go to court to remove the data. In the six month period there were eight court orders issued to remove web search content, six court orders to remove YouTube content, three orders concerning other video content, a court order to remove blog content and an order to remove group content.
Campaign group Big Brother Watch immediately expressed concern at the authorities’ attitude to data.
Calling the figures “very worrying”, Alex Deane, director of the group, said the government was “becoming increasingly concerned with what we do online”.
“It is also a reminder that the internet is not a private place,” he told the Metro newspaper. “Every search made, email sent and page browsed is recorded by someone, somewhere.”
But Google faces its own questions over data collection, on users' activities, for user profiling and advertising purposes.
It is also currently on the hot seat in many countries over its harvesting of web surfing data from wireless networks through its Street View service, something Google has called a mistake and said it has stopped doing.
Juan Carlos Perez also contributed to this story.