United States Asks Google for User information on 4,601 Occasions in Six Months

by Matthew L. Schafer

In an effort towards increased transparency, Google has released a month-by-month list of governments who most often request information on users and make takedown requests.  From July of 2009 to December of 2010, the United States requested more information on users than any other country.  Brazil led all other country’s in takedown requests.

“As a company we feel it is our responsibility to ensure that we maximize transparency around the flow of information related to our tools and services,” the Google Transparency Report reads.  “We believe that more information means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual.”

The countries who requested the most information from Google include:


The United States not only leads other countries in the number of information requests on users, but seems to be pulling away.  From July to December of 2009, the United States made 3,663 requests to Google for data on individuals.  From January to June of 2010, it made 4,287 requests for individual’s data, and from July to December of 2010, it made 4,601 requests.

According to the available data, Google complied with the United States requests 94% of the time–the highest rate of compliance that Google had with any other country.  Google stressed, however, that the number of requests–and its compliance rate–are not necessarily reflective of how many users’ information it divulged.

“There may be multiple requests that ask for data for the same account,” Google said. “Because of the complexity of these requests, the numbers we are sharing do not reflect the total number of user accounts subject to data disclosure requests by government agencies.”

Gross numbers aside, when the top five countries’ number of requests are examined against the total population the rankings change.  The per capita ranks are:

1 request per every 53,582 citizens
1 request per every 64,468 citizens
1 request per every 67,5104 citizens
1 request per every 105,728 citizens
1 request per every 712,297 citizens

While the United States has requested rather large amounts of user information, it hasn’t reached into the top five countries that most often request that Google take down content.  Instead, Brazil leads in takedown requests, followed by South Korea, Germany, Libya, and India.

Google removes content for a variety of reasons ranging from court orders regarding defamation and copyright to impersonation, government criticism, and hate speech.

“Where regulators have direct access to and legal jurisdiction over web content hosts, the simplest strategy is to demand the removal of websites with inappropriate or illegal content,” the OpenNet Initiative reported.

Google’s Transparency Report comes as the controversal PROTECT IP Act is making its way through the Senate–an Act that law professors recently described as “suppressing speech without notice and a proper hearing.”  The official purpose of the ACT is to “prevent online threats to economic creativity and theft of intellectual property, and for other purposes.”

“The earlier bill … would have given the government dramatic new copyright enforcement powers targeted at websites ‘dedicated to infringing activities,’ even where those websites were not based in the United States,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Internet watchdog group, wrote in its blog.  “Despite some salient differences… in the new version, we are no less dismayed by this most recent incarnation than we were with last year’s draft.”

In essence, the Act would give the government the power to force search engines to block certain search results.  (It would also give private parties a private right of action against ‘”Internet site[s] dedicated to infringing activities.”)  Last year, Google came out against such an approach to online censorship.

“Simply put, search engines are not in a position to censor the entire Internet, deleting every mention of the existence of a site,” Google’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Kent Walker told a House Judiciary Subcommittee in April. “If a rogue site remains accessible on the Internet, relying on search engines to try to make it ‘unfindable’ is an impossible endeavor.”

Similarly a group of law professors who study First Amendment, Intellectual Property, and Internet law released a letter in July in opposition to the Act.

“But rather than wait until a Web site is actually judged infringing before imposing theequivalent of an Internet death penalty, the Act would allow courts to order anyInternet service provider to stop recognizing the site even on a temporary restrainingorder or preliminary injunction issued the same day the complaint is filed,” the letter read.


About Matthew L. Schafer

Matthew L. Schafer graduated from the University of Illinois in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Media Studies. He later attended Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication where he earned a Masters of Mass Communication and Georgetown University Law Center where he earned his J.D.
This entry was posted in First Amendment, Internet Policy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to United States Asks Google for User information on 4,601 Occasions in Six Months

  1. Pingback: United States ask Google for information « Introduction to Mass Communications

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