Between July and December 2012, Google received 2,431 requests for disclosure of user data from 4106 accounts, from the Indian government. It complied with as many as 66% of the requests, it has revealed as a part of its Global Transparency report. The company has clarified that the requests might include multiple requests that ask for data for the same entity or a single request that specifies one or more entities. It hasn’t revealed the nature of these requests or the exact nature of the data it shared, but the increase (over this six month time frame) is a jump over the 3,467 requests between January and December 2012 and 3,427 requests between July and December 2011.
Interestingly, for the first time ever, Google has reported a breakdown of the kinds of legal process that government entities in the U.S. use when compelling communications and technology companies to hand over user data. That kind of data has not been included in the report for India. Also note that the transparency Report doesn’t include new data on content removals. Google claims that it will report them separately.
66% compliance is alarmingly high, and remember that a Google spokesperson had informed MediaNama, that “As per the local criminal laws in India, Google does not inform users of their data being shared with the authorities. As it can be seen as aiding in the destruction of evidence.” In our opinion, ethically, Google should inform users whose data is shared with the government agencies. On its website, Google says that the number of requests for criminal investigations increased year on year, but it clarifies that it “didn’t necessarily include requests that were addressed to the wrong Google company. We review each request to make sure that it complies with both the spirit and the letter of the law, and we may refuse to produce information or try to narrow the request in some cases.”
While the number of requests for user data has been increasing steadily, the number of requests for user data has increased unexpectedly. India’s Internet Control Rules worsen the situation, and we expect the number of requests are likely to go up in future. Where the government can’t remove the content, it went ahead and blocked the pages instead. Recently, the Indian government had admitted to have blocked 245 web pages with inflammatory and hateful content, following the exodus of a large number of people belonging to the North Eastern ethnic community from cities like Bangalore and Pune, among others. In August 2012, GoI had also requested Twitter to block 28 Twitter accounts which have allegedly tweeted communally sensitive or inflammatory remarks and photos.