Public Policy

Updating our Transparency Report and electronic privacy laws

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Today, we are releasing the latest version of our Transparency Report concerning government requests for user data. This includes government requests for user data in criminal cases, as well as national security matters under U.S. law. Google fought for the right to publish this information in court and before Congress, and we continue to believe that this type of transparency can inform the broader debate about the nature and scope of government surveillance laws and programs.


In the first half of 2017, worldwide, we received 48,941 government requests that relate to 83,345 accounts. You can see more detailed figures, including a country-by-country breakdown of requests, here. We’ve also posted updated figures for the number of users/accounts impacted by Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests for content in previous reporting periods. While the total number of FISA content requests was reported accurately, we inadvertently under-reported the user/account figures in some reporting periods and over-reported the user/account figures in the second half of 2010. The corrected figures are in the latest report and reflected on our visible changes page.


Updating Electronic Privacy Laws


We are publishing the latest update to our Transparency Report as the U.S. Congress embarks upon an important debate concerning the nature and scope of key FISA provisions. Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 expires at the end of 2017. This is the section of FISA that authorizes the U.S. government to compel service providers like Google to disclose user data (including communications content) about non-U.S. persons in order to acquire “foreign intelligence information.”


Earlier this year, we expressed support for specific reforms to Section 702. We continue to believe that Congress can enact reforms to Section 702 in a way that enhances privacy protection for internet users while protecting national security. Independent bodies have concluded that Section 702 is valuable and effective in protecting national security and producing useful foreign intelligence. These assessments, however, do not preclude reforms that improve privacy protections for U.S. and non-U.S. persons and that do not disturb the core purposes of Section 702.


Government access laws are due for a fundamental realignment and update in light of the proliferation of technology, the very real security threats to people, and the expectations of privacy that Internet users have in their communications. Our General Counsel, Kent Walker, delivered a speech earlier this year calling for a new framework to address cross-border law enforcement requests. Updates to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) will be necessary to create a legal framework that addresses both law enforcement and civil liberties concerns.


The recent introduction of the International Communications Privacy Act (ICPA) in the Senate and the House is a significant step in the right direction, and we applaud Senators Hatch, Coons, and Heller and Representatives Collins, Jeffries, Issa, and DeBene for their leadership on this important bill. ECPA should also be updated to enable countries that commit to baseline privacy, due process, and human rights principles to make direct requests to U.S. providers. Providing a pathway for such countries to obtain electronic evidence directly from service providers in other jurisdictions will remove incentives for the unilateral, extraterritorial assertion of a country’s laws, data localization proposals, aggressive expansion of government access authorities, and dangerous investigative techniques. These measures ultimately weaken privacy, due process, and human rights standards.


We look forward to continuing in the constructive discussion about these issues.