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Google Says It's Getting Far More User-Data Requests From Government

Google says the number of requests it gets from the U.S. government for user information is rising — fast.

The company released new details Thursday showing such requests have more than doubled since 2010. From January to June of this year, Google received 10,918 government orders in criminal cases, compared with 4,287 three years ago. The numbers are part of Google's semiannual Transparency Report, which tracks requests to remove content and see users' data in countries where it operates.

The latest report shows the U.S. was far and away the biggest seeker of data by users, followed by India, Germany and France. The vast majority of U.S. requests came in the form of subpoenas, not court-ordered warrants, which is significant because they have a lower legal threshold.

In its report, Google complains that the government will not let it disclose precise numbers of national security requests, which come with a gag order, and notes that it has asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for permission to do so. That means the totals do not include requests by the National Security Agency for surveillance data.

Google and other companies also cannot disclose the exact number of "National Security Letters" they receive — these are essentially government-issued orders for information related to national security. Government officials say that disclosing these details would help terrorists figure out which Internet companies they should avoid when communicating.

The industry has been fighting back against the perception that it is a willing participant in the NSA surveillance activities exposed by leaker Edward Snowden.

Google has joined other Internet companies in supporting legislation that would allow more transparency, such as the Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013. It would require more government reporting on surveillance, and allow Silicon Valley to do the same. But as the Two-Way wrote last month, the government has come down in opposition to such efforts.

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Larry Abramson is NPR's National Security Correspondent. He covers the Pentagon, as well as issues relating to the thousands of vets returning home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.