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Google Transparency Report

June 10, 2013

Chances are if you are reading this blog, you are at least somewhat familiar with the internet and related current events. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that most of you are going to know about the NSA spying scandal, or at least that there has been a spying scandal. Of course, at the moment, the news generally seems to be reporting on phone service providers and code words, so what does this have to do with Google or the internet? Well, thanks to The Google Transparency Report, I can tell you a little bit more about it.

What is the NSA Spying Scandal?

In an nutshell, The National Security Association (NSA) now has the power to ask a court (initially set up specifically to help federal law enforcement obtain foreign intelligence) to allow it access to the private records of American citizens. In this case, they were able to get a warrant for “all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications (in the US)” for a period of at least three months.

A lot of people are asking, if they were able to do this with a warrant, why is this a scandal?

Well, they never should have been able to get a warrant in the first place. The Fourth Amendment is very clear that a warrant should never be granted without probable cause, which is supported by evidence or eye witness, that a crime has been committed.


But wait, there’s more. The NSA spying scandal doesn’t end there.

After the initial news regarding the Verizon warrant broke, other news agencies were able to obtain their own top-secret data. According to the Washington Post, the NSA is also getting direct access to nine different U.S. internet companies and are able to access things like emails, connection logs and even photos.

So now we can see that our phone and internet usage may not be as private as we once thought. Is there no way for us to learn more about what information requests for our data or private information?

The Google Transparency Report

The Google Transparency Report is not a new thing. In fact, it has been collecting and reporting data regarding removal requests (by copyright owners and governments) and user data requests since 2009/2010. To give you a general idea, I have not been able to find any such transparency from Yahoo and Microsoft only announced in 2013 that it would be releasing similar information (although at this point, it seems limited to 2012 law enforcement requests only).

The Google Transparency Report, at the bare minimum, communicates Google’s desire to be open and honest about the impact on the privacy of its users, which is something that most other major companies don’t seem to be able to claim.

When researching their information on The Google Transparency Report’s User Data Requests, I can definitely see that they are trying to keep people informed at the very least. They explain what data is available and what it means, as well as providing access to more information (including the limitations in their data and the FAQ about the legal process).

Probably the most important question answered in this resource is “What does Google do when it receives a legal request for user data?”

“Respect for the privacy and security of data you store with Google underpins our approach to complying with these legal requests. When we receive such a request, our team reviews the request to make sure it satisfies legal requirements and Google’s policies. Generally speaking, for us to comply, the request must be made in writing, signed by an authorized official of the requesting agency and issued under an appropriate law. If we believe a request is overly broad, we’ll seek to narrow it. We notify users about legal demands when appropriate, unless prohibited by law or court order.” – Google

The reality is, we are probably just looking at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the NSA spying scandal. But the Google Transparency Report is an important tool in understanding how it is potentially affecting us when we use the internet for searches.  Obviously, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding the whole thing, but Google is making efforts to be as clear as possible.

Once again, the answer to the questions we are asking (how is our privacy being effected) is “Google it.”