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Government data requests filed with two of the biggest American tech companies are on the rise, according to new transparency reports, and one privacy expert is worried about this surveillance activity.
Google's Transparency Report showed, from January to June 2017, it received 48,941 requests for data from 83,345 accounts, compared with 44,943 requests from 76,713 accounts in the first half of 2016 -- a 9% year-over-year increase. Google's report covered government data requests from around the globe and said about half of the surveillance requests were from the U.S. government.
Although government data requests increased for Google, the rise was incremental and in line with disclosure trends over the past 10 years. Google's report did not include national security requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), because that data is under a six-month reporting delay
Apple, however, did report government data requests made under FISA and National Security Letters spiked between 4.5 and 4.8 times the number of national security requests in the first half of 2017, compared with 2016.
Between January and July 2017, Apple said it received between 13,250 and 13,499 national security orders affecting between 9,000 and 9,249 accounts. In the first half of 2016, there were between 2,750 and 2,999 national security order requests affecting 2,000 to 2,249 accounts.
Expert reaction to government data requests
Rebecca Herold, CEO of Privacy Professor, said the lack of details in the reports was especially troubling, because Apple and Google are unable to release much information.
Rebecca HeroldCEO of Privacy Professor
"We don't know what types of actions they are dealing with from the government that is tying their hands and compelling them to stay quiet," Herold told SearchSecurity. "It is really a disturbing situation for the country as a whole with regards to our seemingly quick acceleration of removing the privacy protections that had been in place and increased secrecy for how our online and personal data is being collected in possibly many more ways than ever before."
Herold noted the increase in government data requests shouldn't be surprising, because "the current administration made clear even before they took office that surveillance activities were going to increase -- if they could accomplish such expansions -- in the name of national security."
The best way to protect yourself, Herold said, is to be aware that any and all online activity -- including emails, texts, IMs and social posts -- are subject to surveillance, and even "facetious or sarcastic jokes could be taken seriously by those who are monitoring posts."
"Everyone needs to realize that anything posted online will basically be online, or existing in vast repositories of data somewhere, forever," Herold said. "Everyone should be concerned when those with authority and resources to expand surveillance activities, and to compel online sites to release information about those who may have differences of opinions, take clear actions to take advantage of their power and authority to invade the privacy of U.S. citizens."
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