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Google and Twitter open transparency reports for inspection

Happy Data Privacy Day
Mon Jan 28 2013, 16:16

SMALL TALK SOCIAL NETWORK Twitter has issued its second transparency report on Data Privacy Day.

Twitter, the home of the 140 character update, did not surprise us when it revealed that the number of requests from governments has increased.

The firm released data on three areas: information requests, removal requests and copyright notices. In two areas the number of requests has risen, but in the third it has fallen.

Twitter says that it dealt with 3,268 copyright notices in the latter half of 2012, and 3,378 in the first six months. The top three reporting organisations are Websheriff, Copyright Integrity and the RIAA.

Removal requests are most likely to come from governments and be related to news that is inappropriate for some locale. There were 42 of these in last half of the year and six in the first half of the year.

Government, again, is accountable for the third numbers, and they relate to the number of times that requests are made for user information. This has risen, from 449 in the first half of the year to 1,009 in the last half.

The US is the most interested government and it made some 815 requests. The UK was the scene of 25. Japan, and Brazil sit in second and third place with 62 and 34 requests, respectively.

Google has followed up last week's transparency report, that also crowned the US, with a little more information on how it deals with and why it responds to government data requests.

Last week the firm revealed that the number of government requests that it fields has risen, and in a blog post today Google SVP and chief legal officer David Drummond said that it receives dozens a day.

"If it's like most other days, Google-like many companies that provide online services to users-will receive dozens of letters, faxes and emails from government agencies and courts around the world requesting access to our users' private account information," he said. "Typically this happens in connection with government investigations."

Drummond said that Google is law-abiding and must respond to these requests in the correct manner, and that means respecting the rights of all parties. .

"It's important for law enforcement agencies to pursue illegal activity and keep the public safe. We're a law-abiding company, and we don't want our services to be used in harmful ways," he added. "But it's just as important that laws protect you against overly broad requests for your personal information."

In order to straddle what it has to do and what it feels is right to do Google has three initiatives, and Drummond is announcing them on Data Privacy Day.

The first prong of this trident is Google's advocacy of updates to the U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Drummond said that Google would "continue this effort strongly in 2013" through its work with the Digital Due Process coalition and "other initiatives".

Up next is the way that Google handles requests. Drummond has the most to say here, explaining that there is a proper process that each one goes through.

"We scrutinize the request carefully to make sure it satisfies the law and our policies. For us to consider complying, it generally must be made in writing, signed by an authorized official of the requesting agency and issued under an appropriate law," he said, as an example.

"We evaluate the scope of the request. If it's overly broad, we may refuse to provide the information or seek to narrow the request. We do this frequently."

Drummond said that when Google is able to, it notifies users that someone has come knocking for their information, giving them time to prepare a legal response, and it also demands that government agencies arrive with a search warrant.

Third is the transparency report itself and here Google has added a section that explains the hows and whys of a data request in a lot more detail.

"We're proud of our approach," added Drummond, "And we believe it's the right way to make sure governments can pursue legitimate investigations while we do our best to protect your privacy and security."

Last week Google said that requests from governments have risen by 70 percent over the last two years. µ


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