Google Is Sorry It Keeps Giving the Government Your E-mails

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Photo: Gluekit

Happy Data Privacy Day from Google! To celebrate, the company is promising to be diligent when governments ask for personal info, despite having a history of complying. "We want to be sure we're taking our responsibilities really seriously, protecting our users' information and being transparent about it," chief legal officer David Drummond told the New York Times' Bits blog. "We want people to know that we are not going to just roll over but we are going to make sure that governments around the world follow standards and do this in a reasonable way that strikes the balance."

In its latest "Transparency Report," Google revealed that it received 21,389 requests for information about 33,634 users in the second half of 2012, with 8,438 of those requests coming from the U.S. government. Google handed over the data 88 percent of the time, based mostly on just a subpoena, which does not require the approval of a judge.

"People probably assume that all their communications, whether it's physical letters or phone calls or e-mails, are protected by the Fourth Amendment and the police have to go to a judge to get a warrant," a privacy expert explained to the Times. "In fact, that's not the case." That's because of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, or before e-mail was really a thing.

Google says it has worked "for several years" on revamping those outdated laws, "so the same protections that apply to your personal documents that you keep in your home also apply to your email and online documents. We'll continue this effort strongly in 2013 through our membership in the Digital Due Process coalition and other initiatives." In the meantime, says the subtext, be careful what you type, or be prepared to get Paula Broadwell–ed.