The internet is becoming an increasingly monitored sphere.
According to Google’s sixth bi-annual Transparency Report, released on Nov. 13, the number of government requests to remove or survey content from the search engine’s services steadily increased in 2012.
Google’s report on the rise in digital interference from Big Brother comes amid furor over a sex scandal involving former CIA Director General David Petraeus, who resigned from his position last Friday and admitted to an affair. Sources said Petraeus had a relationship with Paula Broadwell, who in 2012 published a fawning biography on the general. In this couple’s case, the affair was uncovered using Gmail metadata buried in email exchanges.
“Broadwell will now become part of the statistics that Gmail reports in its next semi-annual transparency report on government data requests,” Wired deftly noted after reporting on methods the FBI used to uncover the affair.
In a blog post explaining the most recent Transparency Report, Google writes that from January to June of 2012, government officials made 20,938 inquiries about 34,614 specific accounts. These figures were higher than those reported in the previous report.
Take a look at the graph below to see how government requests to Google have increased since the company began releasing this information in 2009:
The amount of content that governments want completely removed from Google’s services is a number that also saw a sharp increase throughout the last six months. While this statistic has remained relatively steady in previous reports, the company received 1,791 requests to remove 17,746 pieces of content in 2012. Check out the numbers in the graph below:
“Government surveillance is on the rise,” Senior Policy Analyst Dorothy Chou states in Google’s blog post. “[G]overnment demands for user data have increased steadily since we first launched the Transparency Report.”
But The Atlantic is quick to point out that Google doesn’t comply with all of these requests. In fact, since 2010, the company has been less compliant with governments’ requests for removal of content from Google services. In the United States, Google said it recently complied with less than 50 percent of these government requests.
But governments’ requests for user data is another story. According to the Transparency Report, Google still complies with 90 percent of these orders in the U.S.
So should you be worried about your personal email accounts? Most people probably shouldn’t be, according to Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. “The government can’t just wander through your emails just because they’d like to know what you’re thinking or doing,” Baker recently told the AP. “But if the government is investigating a crime, it has a lot of authority to review people’s emails.”