In one of its periodic transparency reports, Google revealed that requests for user information from governments worldwide have grown steadily in the past six months, continuing a long-running trend. The company reported that it got a total of 21,389 requests for data (which could mean anything from information meant to identify users to the actual content of emails) between July and December of 2012, an increase of about 2.2 percent from the first half of 2012. Overall, last year saw a pronounced jump from 2011: over 8,000 more requests were made in 2012, or an increase of about 25 percent. 2011, in turn, saw a steep increase from the year before.
As usual, the vast plurality of requests come from the United States: it made about 8,500 requests, compared to 2,500 from the nearest runner-up, India. For the first time, we’re also getting a glimpse at where those US requests come from: Google has started posting the percentage that come from court orders, warrants, and subpoenas that generally don’t require the approval of a judge.
That last category makes up a full 68 percent of the requests, compared to 22 percent that had a warrant and 10 percent that are largely court orders. In the US, 88 percent of all these requests resulted in some data being produced, compared to a global average of 66 percent. It’s no surprise that governments are looking more and more to online communications networks as they investigate or prosecute crimes, but it’s a reminder of how much more common such requests are compared to a few years ago.