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Google calls for international framework for data sharing between governments

With the number of government requests for user data outside the US increasing, Google has now called for an international framework for data sharing between governments. Currently, there is no such mechanism for data sharing between different countries. Data sharing, currently, happens using diplomatic channels or mutual legal assistant treaties between the US and other countries. The US government first has to approve the request before Google can respond to it.  

In its blog, Google said: “Cross-border requests for data continue to account for a substantial portion of overall requests… This underscores the need for an improved international framework that meets legitimate law enforcement needs and ensures high standards of due process, privacy and human rights… Without better and faster ways to collect cross-border evidence, countries will be tempted to take unilateral actions to deal with a fundamentally multilateral problem.”

Under the existing processes, Google notes that average time for sharing information between countries takes up to 10 months, often stalling and delaying investigative processes in case of a crime.

Government requests for user data are increasing globally. In the latest bi-annual Google Transparency report, the company  claims it received 45,000 government requests for user data worldwide between July 2016-December 2016, with a majority of those requests–31,000–coming from outside the US. India placed the fourth highest user data requests (3,449). It was preceded by the United States (13,682), Germany (9,925) and France (4,775).

Although, globally Google is responding to fewer government requests, in the second half of 2016 the company provided data for 57% requests from the Indian government compared to 55% requests in the first half of the year.

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User privacy

The blog also quotes the recommendations of The President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies submitted to former president Barack Obama in December 2013. The review group noted that the US Government must not share data if it is not relevant to the national security of the US and its allies. Additionally, it states that such surveillance must not target any non-United States person based solely on that person’s political views or religious convictions.

Google holds a trove of user data. Sharing user data with governments risks user privacy and raises concerns about civil liberties and government surveillance. The blog goes on to note:

This discussion will raise difficult questions about the scope of government surveillance powers, the extent of digital jurisdiction, the importance of rapid investigations, and privacy rights in the Internet age—fundamental issues that can’t be adequately addressed by courts using antiquated legal standards or by governments acting in an ad hoc fashion.

India and data-sharing

Most of Google’s data centres are based in the US. India has been demanding technology companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter to set up data centres in India to monitor real-time online activity despite being the second most risky country to set up data centres in the world, according to a report by Cushman and Wakefield.

India currently monitors all telephone calls, messages, social media activities and Voice Over Internet Protocol communications using the Central Monitoring System in Delhi and Mumbai. In fact, the government is, currently, arguing in the Supreme Court that privacy is not a fundamental right.

Governments seek to consolidate power over people. Giving governments discretionary access to people’s personal data ensures that the former will always have power over the latter. An international framework, as proposed by Google, which addresses personal rights and involves all stakeholders including citizens and civil liberties group, will only strengthen privacy and individual rights.

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