Google, Wyden, Kirk, and Chaffetz
October 29, 2011 9:26 AM   Subscribe

American law enforcement demands for Google users’ personal information surged by 29 percent during the past six months according to Google's transparency report.

Google is afaik the only major internet company to release such statistics. Coincidentally, the Federal trade commission has decided to monitor Google's privacy practices for the next 20 years.

Also, Senators Wyden, Kirk, and Chaffetz have introduced a bill to halt warrantless GPS tracking.
posted by jeffburdges (41 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Terrorists, you see.

They hate us for our freedom.
posted by Trurl at 9:36 AM on October 29, 2011 [7 favorites]

What is the rationale for monitoring Google's practices?
posted by infini at 9:40 AM on October 29, 2011

The gov't, according to existing laws (written in 1986!) don't even need a warrant for information that lives in "the cloud" after 180 days. They just need "reasonable suspicion." (although it looks like the gov't may be backing off trying to get that info without a warrant.)

At the same time, while the government wants easy, unfettered access to all of our information, it wants to be a little more duplicitous in giving us access to government information.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 9:44 AM on October 29, 2011

Google Buzz violated various countries laws. I think our FTC doesn't like actually prosecuting anyone, but 'monitoring' gives them leverage.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:44 AM on October 29, 2011

Sure would be a good time to set up your own cloud.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:46 AM on October 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

Norway - Two requests resulted in the removal of 1814 items from AdWords for violating Norwegian marketing laws.

Germany - A substantial number of German removal requests resulted from court orders that related to defamation in search results. Approximately 11% of the German removal requests are related to pro-Nazi content or content advocating denial of the Holocaust, both of which are illegal under German law.

The ability to falsely advertise, defame innocent people, and promote Nazi propaganda are hardly things which one should be defending as "freedom."
posted by three blind mice at 9:49 AM on October 29, 2011

It appears that ownCloud does not yet support encryption, LogicalDash, right? You could use any "raw" cloud service provider like Amazon S3 provided your application has been configured to encrypt everything. Tahoe-LAFS looks very cool, btw.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:50 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

falsely advertise, defame innocent people, and promote Nazi propaganda

All of which combined pose less of a threat than a police state with unlimited surveillance powers.
posted by Trurl at 9:52 AM on October 29, 2011 [20 favorites]

Are you saying Google should not be reporting them, three blind mice?, because otherwise that doesn't seem terribly relevant.

We should avoid discussing defemation here because we lack the details of all cases, but (a) Google complied with German Holocaust denial laws and Norwegian marketing laws, (b) libel laws have run off the rails in the U.K. and former colonies, and (c) the U.S. cases reported were stuff like cops beating people up anyways :

We received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove YouTube videos of police brutality, which we did not remove.

posted by jeffburdges at 10:05 AM on October 29, 2011

In any case, there has been a massive increase in governmental requests for users' data across many western countries since last December : Britain +71%, Germany +38%, South Korea +36%, U.S.A +29%, Spain +28%, France +27%.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:12 AM on October 29, 2011

If you aren't familiar with encryption, I listed some starting places in this comment in the ioerror thread. Off-the-record messaging is a particularly easy way to start.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:17 AM on October 29, 2011

Assuming the increase remains constant at 29% every six months, it'll be around 20 years from now when there's a user data request for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. which has an online presence (actually before that point, since non-Google services don't report their stats)

I do hope there's some sort of counterbalancing force before then.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:25 AM on October 29, 2011

jeffburges, ownCloud doesn't know or care how the files are stored on-disk. You could use an encrypted filesystem if you wanted. On the other hand, since it runs on top of an Apache webserver, it supports SSL encrypted connections just fine.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:27 AM on October 29, 2011

There isn't a huge increase reported during previous periods, RobotVoodooPower, well google doesn't report anything then, which might indicate that increases occurred but were less dramatic.

I'd therefore assume this largely represents our authorities' reactions to WikiLeaks, the Arab spring, Southern European Real-Democracy movements, etc. Anyone taking bets on the increase for this reporting period what with OccupyWallSt?
posted by jeffburdges at 10:45 AM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

This reporting period is for the first half of 2011, so it's exceedingly unlikely it has anything to do with OWS.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 10:51 AM on October 29, 2011

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."

-- Thomas Jefferson
posted by bukvich at 11:57 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

The "tree of liberty" quote from Jefferson needs some context. When he wrote it, he was justifying the government's use of deadly force against protesters in Sheas' Rebellion. So unless you are supporting violence against protesters, you might want to rethink your posturing around that quote or at least read the whole thing in context.
posted by warbaby at 1:02 PM on October 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

Also, Senators Wyden, Kirk, and Chaffetz

Chaffetz isn't a Senator, he's a Rep (although he's certainly given indications of Senate ambition).

This is the first thing I can recall seeing from him that indicates he might not be just a simple mechanism for turning sensible policy into a Utah-special blend of tea party crazy, so I guess my level of respect for him just jumped up a bit from complete antipathy to slightly measured antipathy.
posted by weston at 1:12 PM on October 29, 2011

All of which combined pose less of a threat than a police state with unlimited surveillance powers.

All of which combined which appear to contribute to the majority of "police state" actions and have nothing to do with "unlimited powers of surveillance", but are rather mundane and ordinary breeches of law - law which serves the common good.

The internet is a public road - it uses public land and airwaves - and if you want to avoid the police who patrol it, you have the choice of staying off it.
posted by three blind mice at 1:18 PM on October 29, 2011

Again, there isn't any argument here against Google complying with various European countries' strong hate speech laws, three blind mice.

We're discussing how the report suggests that western powers massively upped their low-level internal surveillance during the first half of this year, which includes a 20% bump by the U.S. when the protests were in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southern Europe.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:13 PM on October 29, 2011

Wow, this thread has been completely off the rails since the get go.

A couple of things:
1. The FTC/Google Buzz settlement and its adjoining monitoring are not related to Google's transparency report. The former is about consumers' expectations regarding what a company will do with the information you get it. Google screwed that up in its Buzz roll out, copped to that, and settled with the FTC, leading to the 20 year monitoring effort. The latter is about government demands for information about customers. This is the information that Google releases, and which no other company that I'm aware of does.

2. Three blind mice... I'm not sure exactly what point you're trying to make here, but Google's transparency report involves information about every single kind of takedown demand that they get from any government around the world. Some of those are for Nazi propaganda from the German government, and some are police brutality videos that are embarrassing to authorities and which they just prefer nobody see. Google does report all of them, rightly so, and yes, that is a definition of freedom that I am completely ok with. If you aren't, I'm not really sure what else there is to talk about.

3. This report is absolutely about the "unlimited powers of surveillance." It is firmly relevant to government data gathering about citizens from online sources, which, if done in offline sources, would without a doubt from any lawyer in the country require a judge to issue a warrant. Because of the way the law is written now, the government requires no warrant to gain access to the information that you keep online (such as your email) in the majority of cases. I don't want to avoid the police who "patrol" the Internet (sorry, but HAH), I just want them to abide by the Fourth Amendment the same as they must do offline.
posted by Inkoate at 2:35 PM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

warbaby: The "tree of liberty" quote from Jefferson &c . . .

That Atlantic article which you are snipping from is fantastic warbaby thank you v. much for the pointer. I had read that Jefferson thought the French Revolution was a good idea, but the whole bit about the "wild gas of liberty" was new to me. The thing where they borked his quotation on slavery to engrave on his memorial is something that deserves repeating many times.
posted by bukvich at 4:29 PM on October 29, 2011

The ability to falsely advertise, defame innocent people, and promote Nazi propaganda are hardly things which one should be defending as "freedom."

I think they actually are.
posted by LiteOpera at 9:22 AM on October 30, 2011

Does anyone know where the raw data is? I mean, we do not know numbers of requests. I looked back at the data and could not find any raw numbers for the requests being made. This is routinely a way that people hide information. So why doesn't Google just give both the percent of increase and the numbers?
posted by alteredcarbon at 11:07 AM on October 30, 2011

There is a lot more information available via the sidebar, including the raw data.

You can extract only the period listed here using grep 2011 < google-user-data-requests.csv > meow and import that into R with the command Z = read.table("meow", sep = ","). I added an extra column for the population in millions to extract the accounts per million-capita using the command cbind(Z[2], Z[6]/Z[7], Z[5]).

Singapore   46.47 75%
United States   35.713 93%
Portugal   30.189 50%
France   25.75 48%
United Kingdom   23.20 64%
Germany   21.56 67%
Italy   20.88 60%
Australia   18.39 73%
Hong Kong   17.57 42%
Spain   15.05 63%
Netherlands   12.83 48%
Taiwan   11.51 81%
South Korea   10.84 37%
Belgium   10.28 67%
Brazil   9.43 87%
Israel   8.82 60%
Chile   8.36 42%
Poland   8.35 11%
Switzerland   5.38 69%
Argentina   4.64 32%
Canada   2.20 48%
India   2.05 70%
Turkey   1.01 0%
Mexico   0.66 42%
Japan   0.64 87%
Russia   0.33 0%

You should perhaps adjust for people online rather gross population, but I'd imagine that among similar western countries this gives a fairly good impression of relative rates of low-level government surveillance.

I found it interesting that Google complied with zero government requests for data in Russia and Turkey. Kudos Google! And kudos to Japan, Canada, and other who don't spy on everyone too!

posted by jeffburdges at 12:17 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

So I'm not understanding what the figures mean here - say for Singapore - what is 46.67 ? (Singapore's population is approximately 5 million in toto)
posted by infini at 4:45 AM on October 31, 2011

Singapore requested data on 237 account during the first half of 2011. 237/5.1 = 46.47. I'd expect that percentage compliance refers to requests, not accounts, but it's still a cool number.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:05 AM on October 31, 2011

Have you any idea what kind of data Google is able to offer governments on user accounts and/or users?
posted by infini at 1:11 PM on October 31, 2011

After ioerror's comment, we should single out that the United States requested data on 11057 google users during the first half of this year, vastly more than any other country listed.

If we blindly extrapolate, that gives about 25,000 users during 2011, or maybe 1 in every 2500 American gmail users1, presumably similar numbers apply to yahoo, man, etc.

It isn't a "look to the left and look to the right" situation, but it's enough people that using off-the-record messaging and gpg/pgp encrypted email might provide cover for people who actually organize protests or publish leaks or whatever.

1Caveats : requests covering large numbers of users, double counting in extrapolation to the year, extra post-OWS surveillance, incorrectly estimating gmail's American user base, government being unexpectedly interested in non-gmail data, google not being allowed to count National Security Letters, etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:41 PM on November 3, 2011

I'm still curious to know what a Google may have to offer any government of mine that requested their info on me - browsing history? email content? chat content? hard drive content?
posted by infini at 10:25 AM on November 4, 2011

There is no question that Google has all your gmail's email except those you encrypt using gpg/pgp, all your gtalk instant messages except those you encrypt using off-the-record messaging, and all the searches you perform while logged in. I donno if deleting and pausing your "web history" prevents them from accumulating it for law enforcement purposes, but quite possibly.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:35 AM on November 4, 2011

thank you, your last sentence covers the only question I had.
posted by infini at 11:12 AM on November 4, 2011

Btw, this company launched this remote monitoring system that I then never heard of again, its like they all suddenly went 'poof' - now I wonder what the boys have grown up into. We'd converted this complicated launch into an improv comedy act titled, what else "The Ghost in the Machine" for N+I '99
posted by infini at 11:20 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

As I linked that FIOA article upthread, I should note that rhizome found an article pointing out that the DoJ has been lying to FOIA requesters for decades and plans on continuing to do so.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:07 PM on November 5, 2011

Also, homunculus found a SCOTUS case that explains why Wyden et al. care about GPS tracking now. Btw, Two new fed GPS trackers found on SUV
posted by jeffburdges at 12:45 PM on November 8, 2011

Google censors the Pirate Bay, isoHunt, and 4Shared (from autocomplete)
posted by jeffburdges at 12:57 PM on November 26, 2011

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