Google announced that it was going to start charging American law enforcement authorities for legal data disclosure requests, such as subpoenas and search warrants, related to its users. The company receives thousands of petitions from authorities in the US every year and has decided to charge to help “offset the costs” associated with producing the information.
The New York Times reports that Google sent out a notice announcing the new fees, which went into effect on 13 January, to law enforcement officials. The fees are legal, as American federal law allows companies to charge reimbursement fees for these requests, and they are not new for Google. According to the Times, the company has charged to fulfil legal data requests in the past, and it is not the only company that charges for such work. Mobile network providers in the US have been charging to fulfil similar legal requests for years.
Nonetheless, a Google spokesman told the Times that for many years now, the company had not “systematically charged” for these requests.
In the first half of 2019, Google received more than 26,000 data disclosure requests in the US. It also received more than 11,000 data preservation requests, or requests to set aside a copy of specific data while the government agency obtains a legal process to obtain the information.
Google’s “Notice of Reimbursement” documented sent to American law enforcement officials listed the following prices for different data requests.
Search warrant: $245
PRTT (Pen register or trap and trace) order: $60
Wiretap order: $60
The Google spokesman told the Times that the company would not charge for requests in some cases, such as child safety investigations and life-threatening emergencies.
Law enforcement can get all sorts of information on users from Google, although the information that Google provides will depend on the legal demand presented. According to Google’s website, local and federal government agencies in the US can request to obtain information created in the past or information created in real-time.
Subpoenas, for instance, will reveal information created in the past. They can require Google to disclose the name a user provided when creating a Gmail address account as well as the IP addresses used to create the account and sign in and sign out. For this last part of information, Google provides the dates and times.
A warrant, which also relates to information created in the past, requires Google to provide data such as a user’s search query information and private content stored in a Google account, such as Gmail messages, documents, photos and YouTube videos.
Wiretaps and PRTT orders require Google to hand over information created in real-time. Wiretaps require Google to turn over the content of communication in real-time. PRTT, on the other hand, allows law enforcement agencies to retrieve dialling, routing, addressing and signalling information, but excludes the content of communications. PRTT orders can reveal the phone numbers dialled on a phone or the IP address issued by an ISP.
The news that Google will begin charging to fulfil legal data requests has received mixed responses. Some told the Times that the new fees would prevent excessive surveillance, while others stated that they would hamper smaller law enforcement agencies.
If it does turn out to be a burden on US law enforcement, there’s probably a pretty good chance that we’ll hear about it. It’s not like US authorities shy away from fighting with tech companies over issues like these nowadays. [The New York Times]