The “G” Stands For Government: What Are Google’s Criteria For Handing Over Gmail?

As the Petraeus scandal grows more absurd, it’s hard not to see the irony: our head spy-guy snooped on by a secretive government agency with expanding surveillance powers.

Writing in Forbes, Andy Greenberg notes that the FBI’s search of Paula Broadwell’s email was just 1 out of 7,172 fulfilled requests of Google handing over its users’ data to the US government. (That 7,172 stat was just in the first 6 months of 2012.)

Greenberg goes on to say that unlike Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo, Google puts out a semi-annual transparency report disclosing such information.

In a statement Greenberg received from a Google representative, the criteria for honoring government requests are summarized: “the requests come in a written form, are sent from an appropriate agency, cite a criminal case and are sufficiently narrow in their demands, both in terms of which users are affected and what time frame of data is requested.”

It’s important to note that while Google is trying to appear both compliant to law enforcement and protective of their users, Greenberg reminds us that there is no strict legal standard over the data these internet companies hold.

As journalists and elected officials question why Ms. Broadwell’s email was searched in the first place,* many tech observers and industry professionals are calling for legal reform in what is known as Digital Due Process.

*While the FBI states that Ms. Broadwell’s harassing emails to Jill Kelley were enough to warrant investigation, many see this as dubious pretext and police-state overreach.

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