The U.S. government is increasingly turning to Google for assistance with its investigations.
Between January and June of this year, the search giant received nearly 8,000 requests from the U.S. government for data about Gmail users, bloggers, people who store documents in the cloud and other Google account holders. That includes requests for the type of information that led to the recent resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus.
Google turned over the requested data 90% of the time, the company says in its latest "transparency report," released on Tuesday. In the latter half of 2011, Google received significantly less requests -- 6,321 -- and complied 93% of the time.
Those figures -- along with the still-unfolding drama engulfing Petraeus -- could help revive an effort to update federal privacy laws. The main law governing digital privacy, the 1986 Electronic Privacy Communications Act, is laughably outdated. Among other questionable provisions, the EPCA only requires government officials to obtain a search warrant to access emails that are less than six months old. If emails are in storage for more than 180 days, they can be obtained without a search warrant. That's important because the government can't get a search warrant without probable cause to believe the search will uncover evidence of a crime -- which isn't always an easy standard to meet.
As Wired reports, when the law was passed, few if any people retained old emails -- mainly because they didn't have the ability to do so. Therefore, it seemed reasonable at the time to draw a distinction between current emails and older ones. But now that people can retain emails for years on end, ECPA's framework no longer makes sense.
Google also reports that it received court orders and other requests from government officials to remove more than 2,500 pieces of content --including YouTube clips, search results, Google Groups posts and search results -- in the six months ending in December of 2011. The company says it didn't always comply with those demands.
For instance, Google says it received five requests and one court order to take down seven YouTube clips "for criticizing local and state government agencies, law enforcement or public officials." The company says it didn't remove content in response.
It's not clear from the report how Google was able to defy a judicial order, but it's possible that the company went to court and got the order vacated. Google also says that it received three court orders to remove 641 search results for linking to allegedly libelous sites; the company says it removed 233 of the results.