US Gov't Requests for Google User Data Skyrocket

John Lister's picture

Google has reported a dramatic increase in the number of requests from government agencies for information about web users. The figures show a significant global variation in how many of those requests proved justifiable.

The numbers come in the latest installment of Google's Transparency Report in which, every six months, it gives the figures for the number of government requests for data related to user activity. The newly published figures cover the second half of 2015, as there's a lengthy delay in compiling the numbers.

During that period, the total number of requests was 40,677. That's a new record, up from 35,365 in the first half of 2015 and 30,140 in the second half of 2014. (Source:

One In Three User Data Requests Denied

The proportion of requests that led to Google handing some data over was 64 percent. That level has been surprisingly consistent across the past few years. Google says its policy is to hand over only enough data to satisfy both the letter and spirit of the law. As well as the 36 percent of cases it rejected outright, it says in some other cases it hands over a narrower set of data than the government requested.

The United States had the highest number of requests at 12,523 and one of the highest proportions of successful requests at 79 percent. It's difficult to compare the US figures with those for other countries, for example, as the fact that Google is an American company means that is where it's also most exposed to legal oversight. (Source:

Canada Makes Few Requests

Most of the other countries with a high number of requests appear to simply be the result of large populations with widespread Internet use. Hong Kong was surprisingly high with 138 demands, likely the result of the Chinese government's interest. Google doesn't provide figures for China and doesn't explain why, though it may be that Chinese law prevents it from even revealing the number of requests.

At the other end of the scale, Canadian government agencies made only 60 requests. Taking into account the population difference, that's still around 23 times lower than the US figure.

Among the countries with a significant level of government activity (meaning more than 100 requests), there were only six where Google rejected more than half of the requests: Chile, Hong Kong, Italy, Poland, Russia and South Korea. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Are you surprised the number of government requests continues to grow so quickly? Is there an explanation for the way the ratio of "justified" to "unjustified" requests seems to be so consistent at two-to-one? Should Google give more details about why it rejects many requests?

Rate this article: 
Average: 3.8 (4 votes)


matt_2058's picture

Looking at the numbers, it's not that much based on the population. About 1 request for 10k people.
--Requests for .0165% of the population over 18 yrs old
--Granted for .0106%
I get the feeling the 'justified vs unjustified' ratio is gamed. Or maybe it's throwing alot of BS at the wall and seeing what will stick.

Too bad there's not a panel of citizens to review the outcome of all the data gathering. It would be interesting to see what progress is made, how the info is used, and exactly what legal action is taken from 26000+ approved requests. Should be quite a few arrests from that much work.