Of course, people don’t always use our services for good, and it’s important that law enforcement be able to investigate illegal activity. This may involve requests for personal information. When we receive these requests, we:
- scrutinize them carefully to ensure they satisfy the law and our policies;
- seek to narrow requests that are overly broad;
- notify users when appropriate so they can contact the entity requesting the information or consult a lawyer; and
- require that government agencies use a search warrant if they’re seeking search query information or private content, like Gmail and documents, stored in a Google Account.
When conducting national security investigations, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation can issue a National Security Letter (NSL) to obtain identifying information about a subscriber from telephone and Internet companies. The FBI has the authority to prohibit companies from talking about these requests. But we’ve been trying to find a way to provide more information about the NSLs we get—particularly as people have voiced concerns about the increase in their use since 9/11.
Starting today, we’re now including data about NSLs in our Transparency Report. We’re thankful to U.S. government officials for working with us to provide greater insight into the use of NSLs. Visit our page on user data requests in the U.S. and you’ll see, in broad strokes, how many NSLs for user data Google receives, as well as the number of accounts in question. In addition, you can now find answers to some common questions we get asked about NSLs on our Transparency Report FAQ.
You'll notice that we're reporting numerical ranges rather than exact numbers. This is to address concerns raised by the FBI, Justice Department and other agencies that releasing exact numbers might reveal information about investigations. We plan to update these figures annually.
Posted by Richard Salgado, Legal Director, Law Enforcement and Information Security
(Cross-posted on the Public Policy Blog)