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Google released its annual transparency report yesterday and surprise, surprise… government surveillance is on the rise in the United States by 46 percent compared to previous reporting periods.

And where do these user data requests come from?

These requests are usually from government agencies that are looking for information on Google users that may be involved in legal battles, criminal investigations, etc.

Just in the first half of the year, there were 20,938 requests from countries around the world involving 34,614 accounts. The U.S. had the lion’s share with 7,969 requests involving 16,281 accounts, only to be followed by the UK as a distant second with 1,425 requests involving 1,732 accounts.

This is by no means an automatic process, Google revises each request and, in its latest report, said to have complied with 90 percent of them. In many cases, they mentioned that the requests constituted falsified documents.

The interesting trend here is that these requests have doubled in the last reporting period compared to the last few years where the trend had remained flat. This marks an expected and worrisome trend that government surveillance of its citizens is on the rise.

graph2 Google Transparency Report: Government surveillance is on the riseGoogle Transparency Report / User data

Google Transparency Report

The new report also provides annotations that highlight interesting facts. In the case of the U.S., five requests were received from local, state and government agencies to remove seven YouTube videos for criticizing these entities. Google did not comply with these requests to remove content. Other requests involve removing search results for trademark violations, posts being removed from Google groups in  defamation cases and search results that were removed for linking to a website that allegedly defamed organizations and individuals.

Google is not alone

Other companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, LinkedIn and many others, constantly receive warrants and subpoenas from law enforcement and individuals seeking information about its users, takedown notices and in many cases, DMCA notices that are received from copyright holders.

graph11 Google Transparency Report: Government surveillance is on the rise

The question is, can you protect your information against these virtual search warrants?

If your information is hosted, facilitated or transits through a third-party such as Google, Facebook, Twitter or an Internet Service Provider, this information, be it emails, documents, logs, photos (you get the point) with the proper legal cause, can be intercepted, spied upon, dissected and inspected.

Is privacy even possible in the virtual world?

As our lives move more and more into the digital space, government and legal systems, slowly but surely, with be moving there as well. As the recent Petraeus scandal shows, Gmail or by that account, any other online service is not a private way to establish communications with anyone.

I predict these requests are only going to rise dramatically in future reporting periods and will become the new normal.

What do you think?