Google recently published an update to its semi-annual Transparency Report, and the latest figures show an ongoing increase in the efforts of governments around the world to censor content on services like Google and YouTube.
The new figures show that
governments made 3,846 takedown requests in the first half of 2013, which is up from 2,285 requests in the previous six month period, a 68% increase. Plus of course the requests that Google is not allowed to tell us about. The published requests targeted
24,737 pieces of content.
Google says it complied in only one third of the cases. Google refers to the requests as censorship and cited:
[A] worrying upward trend in the number of government requests, and
underscores the importance of transparency around the processes governing such requests.
The increase in this report appears tied to a spike in requests from Turkey, which demanded the most takedowns of any country (1,673). The second
biggest number came from the United States (545), which was followed by Brazil, Russia and India.
Brad Smith , Microsoft's General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Legal & Corporate Affairs at Microsoft writes in a blog post:
Today, we are releasing our
2012 Law Enforcement Requests Report. This is our first Law Enforcement Requests Report. It provides data on the number of
requests we received from law enforcement agencies around the world relating to Microsoft online and cloud services and how we responded to those requests. All of our major online services are covered in this report, including, for example, Hotmail,
Outlook.com; SkyDrive; Xbox LIVE; Microsoft Account; and Office 365. We're also making available similar data relating to Skype, which Microsoft acquired in October 2011.
We will update this report every six months.
In recent months, there has been broadening public interest in how often law enforcement agencies request customer data from technology companies and how our industry responds to these requests. Google, Twitter and others have made
important and helpful contributions to this discussion by publishing some of their data. We've benefited from the opportunity to learn from them and their experience, and we seek to build further on the industry's commitment to transparency by releasing
our own data today.
Like others in the industry, we are releasing publicly the total number of requests we receive from law enforcement in countries around the world and the number of potentially affected accounts identified in
We are also publishing additional data that we hope will provide added insights for our customers and the public who are interested in these issues. For example, we are providing more detailed information that
shows the number of law enforcement requests resulting in disclosure to these agencies of "customer content", such as the subject line and body of an email exchanged through Outlook.com; or a picture stored on SkyDrive. We similarly are
reporting on the number of law enforcement requests that result in disclosure only of "non-content" data, which includes account information such as an email address, a person's name, country of residence, or gender, or system-generated data
such as IP addresses and traffic data.
I've tried to summarize what has struck me as some of the principal trends reflected in the data we're releasing today:
First, while we receive a significant number of law enforcement requests from around the world, very few actually result in the disclosure to these agencies of customer content. To be precise, last year Microsoft (including Skype)
received 75,378 law enforcement requests for customer information, and these requests potentially affected 137,424 accounts or other identifiers. Only 2.1%, or 1,558 requests, resulted in the disclosure of customer content .
It's insightful, I believe, to look at the governments to whom customer content was disclosed. Of the 1,558 disclosures of customer content, more than 99% were in response to lawful warrants from courts in the United States.
In fact, there were only 14 disclosures of customer content to governments outside the United States. These were to governments in Brazil, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand.
Of the 56,388 cases where Microsoft
(excluding Skype) disclosed some non-content information to law enforcement agencies, more than 66% of these were to agencies in only five countries . These were the U.S., the United Kingdom, Turkey, Germany and France. For Skype, the top five
countries accounted for 81% of all requests. These countries were the U.K., U.S., Germany, France and Taiwan.
Roughly 18% of the law enforcement requests (again, excluding Skype) resulted in the disclosure of no customer
information in any form, either because Microsoft rejected the request or because no customer information was found.
Finally, while law enforcement requests for information unquestionably are important (and raise
important issues around the world), only a tiny percentage of users are potentially affected by them. We have many hundreds of millions of accounts across our online and cloud services. To give you a sense of proportion, we estimate that less than two
one-hundredths of one % (or 0.02%, to put it another way) were potentially affected by law enforcement requests.