If you’re of the mind that what you do online is your business -- and your business alone -- you should probably get offline. Unfortunately, unless you’ve learned how to live off of the grid in, say, a floating cabin
, the Internet is one of the key weapons in your arsenal of daily survival.
As such, your life post-CompuServe and America Online
(NYSE:AOL) is stored in a humongous network of worldwide data servers. And, whether by security breach, government surveillance, or the power of not-so-secret, super-secret National Security Letters (NSLs), that also means your life is basically up for grabs.
Tech companies feel pretty bad about their court-ordered
loose lips -- take, for example, the 192,499 instances of being asked to cough up their users’ information and content to the FBI between 2003 and 2006 alone. So, for the past few years, they have started to get out in front of the problem.
Their solution? Full-disclosure. Or, at least partial.
A gag order has the telecom and tech companies hamstrung, unable to report the full scope and metrics of the NSLs that firms receive under the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which the companies are currently fighting
. For now, only limited and vague data is allowed to be made public. The following is a breakdown of the so-called transparency reports published by Google
(NASDAQ:GOOG), Twitter, Microsoft
(NASDAQ:MSFT), and, most recently, Facebook
(NASDAQ:FB) for all law-enforcement-requested data.
Google’s data requests are on a steep incline. Within the two-year reporting period between 2009 and 2012, applications have increased by 71% from 12,539 to 21,389. Google has either fully or partially complied with 88% of requests.
At 8,438, the overwhelming majority of government requests originated in the US.
Between 2009 and 2012, Google received between zero and 999 NSLs pertaining to between 1,000-1,999 user accounts. In 2010, the same number of letters were issued but targeted 2,000-2,999 user accounts.
The most commonly used Google services for which government agencies request data are the search engine, Gmail, YouTube, Google Voice, and Blogger.
Law enforcement requests for data about Twitter users climbed from 849 in the first part of 2012 to 1,009 solicitations in the latter half of the year.
2013 has seen 1,157 information requests from governments around the world regarding 1,319 accounts between January 1 and June 30. Twitter supplied some or all of the data requested in 55% of the cases.
US authorities made 902 requests, of which Twitter complied with 67%.
Twitter’s transparency report does not include data on NSL requests.
In 2012, Microsoft received 75,378 global requests for customer information affecting 137,424 accounts. US courts asked for more than 99% of the information.
Excluding Skype, Microsoft disclosed only about 2%, or 1,558, of the requests for customer content, e.g. the body of an email or the subject line. However, nearly 80%, or 56,388 of non-content data like names, email addresses, IP addresses, or countries of residence were provided.
Microsoft received between zero and 999 NSLs in 2012, down from the 1,000-1,999 requests the two previous years.
Government agencies have collected material from Microsoft's full suite of online and cloud services, including Skype, Hotmail, Outlook, SkyDrive, Xbox Live, and Office 365.
The very first transparency report from Facebook was published this week and accounts for the first six months of the year, ending June 30.
Of the 38,000 Facebook accounts targeted worldwide, between 20,000-21,000 came from the US and involved 11,000-12,000 separate data requests.
Facebook produced at least some information in 79% of US cases, most of which did not involve matters of national security but related to other criminal activities, like burglary and kidnapping.
Law enforcement data solicitations tended to revolve around “basic subscriber information such as name and length of service...Internet address logs or account content.”
Facebook’s transparency report doesn’t include data on NSL requests.
Each of these companies require subpoenas, court orders, warrants, or their legal equivalents before complying with criminal requests.
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