Google and Apple report record high numbers of Government data requests

Apple and Google have published their latest transparency reports and data from both tech giants has shown the Government desire to see your personal online information has in no way diminished.

Google gets 4,000 more requests

The Google Biannual Transparency Report which came out at the end of last week showed that between January 1st and June 30th, Google received a total of 48,941 data requests from Government relating to 83,345 accounts.

This represents around 4,000 additional requests compared to the first six months of last year and continues the consist rises that have been seen every year since the first Transparency Report was published in 2009.

Google has confirmed that complied with 65% of these requests, which means that around 54,000 Google account holders had some or all of their account information handed over to Governments during this six-month period.

There was also an increase seen in the UK, where 3,497 requests were made in relation to 4,991 accounts. Around 70% of those requests were complied with. This is an increase of 320 requests in the last six months of 2016.

At the same time, Google also received around 500 National Security letters in the USA. These letters come directly from the FBI and do not require any judicial approval before being sent. Google is only permitted to tell us how many they received to the nearest 250, so this figure is only approximate, with around 1,500 different accounts thought to have been affected by this.

Apple transparency report shows the same pattern

Apple also released their biannual transparency report for the first six months of the year at the end of last week. The headline figure from their data was that the number of National Security letters they received from the US Government had reached record highs, with between 13,250 and 13,499 requests being made which affected between 9,000 and 9,249 accounts.

This is more than twice the number of requests Apple received in the last six months of 2016. Between July and December last year, Apple received 5,750 to 5,999 government national security data requests. There is no obvious reason been put forward by Apple for the huge rise that their data shows.

Meanwhile, Apple also reported that they received 1,692 requests from the US Government for account information to be released, relating to 6,407 different accounts. Of these requests, 879 were complied with but no content data was released, while 540 saw content data being released.

The UK made the next highest number of requests, with a total of 270 relating to 325 accounts. Of those only 1 had content data handed over, but 210 received some account information.

UK and US leading the way again

It is telling that the UK and the US continue to lead the way with the vast majority of data requests coming from these two countries. This is no coincidence as both countries appear to be determined to intent on accessing as much of their citizen’s personal data as possible. This can be seen in the UK with the Government’s ongoing efforts to use terrorist atrocities as a reason to try and access encrypted communications.

But it is the US data which is more interesting on this occasion. The main piece of legislation in the US which requires both Google and Apple to hand over such information is Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

But that legislation lapses at the end of 2017 and many big tech companies, including these two have lobbied hard for its renewal to include significant changes.

In their transparency report, Google commented that “Government access laws are due for a fundamental realignment and update in light of the proliferation of technology, the very real security threats to people, and the expectations of privacy that Internet users have in their communications.”

It remains to be seen if that will be the case, but these transparency reports serve to highlight the huge amount of personal data that tech companies are required to hand over to Governments, in addition to that data their gather through mass surveillance programmes anyway. Public awareness is the first step to change and it is to be hoped that both the US and UK governments will soon see the light too.

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