Yesterday, I applauded Twitter for its Transparency Reports and today I offer the same applause to Google, which released its Transparency Report for the second half of 2012 last week. For the first time, Google broke down the kind of legal requests as well - more applause for taking that step.
- American government agencies (including federal, state, and local authorities) made over 8,400 requests for approximatelhy 15,000 accounts.
- Google complied with some, if not all, of the requests 88% of the time.
- 22% of the requests were made under probable cause driven search warrants delivered via the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). Authorities have also been known to request information using ECPA subpoenas, which are much easier to obtain because the information they ask for does not include the content of e-mails.
Google is one of the few e-mail providers which has challenged law enforcement agencies to produce a warrant to access users’ e-mail. As readers may recall, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2010 that the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizures applies to e-mail. That means a court order isn't good enough - a warrant is required - even if the e-mail is over 180 days old, despite the language of the ECPA which suggests that a lower standard applies. This does not apply to the other circuits, which is causing consternation among privacy advocates.
It is unfortunate that we are lacking a Supreme Court decision on the issue and that efforts to reform the ECPA in Congress seem to have stalled. Everyone knows the ECPA has outlived its time - let us hope that this sluggish Congress gets its act together to protect our privacy - and thanks to Google which has advocated for the reform of the ECPA.
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