Privacy advocates are pushing for a higher bar when it comes to government access to online data, after Google and Twitter revealed that authorities' requests for personal information have skyrocketed since the two began publishing transparency reports.
"Because so much of our private life is now in the hands of Internet and cell phone companies, it's more important than ever for them to be transparent about the extent to which they facilitate government surveillance," said Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union.
In the second half of 2012, Twitter received 815 requests for information in the U.S. about 1,145 user accounts, and provided some or all of the information in 69 percent of those cases, according to data released by Twitter yesterday. Sixty percent of the requests were subpoenas from a prosecutor saying the information is relevant to an investigation; 19 percent were search warrants, which must be granted by a judge, based on probable cause; and 11 percent were court orders for information.
Google is comparable to Twitter in that it turned over information in response to 66 percent of the 8,438 requests it received in the U.S. in the second half of last year.
Both companies report that requests for information have increased steadily. Since its first report in 2009, the number of requests Google alone has received in the U.S. has soared 136 percent.
Yet, the law that's supposed to protect privacy -- the Electronic Communications Privacy Act -- was passed in 1986, before Google, Twitter and Facebook existed.
The law was almost updated during the last Congress but was left untouched after law enforcement agencies argued they need access to personal online information to fight crime and terrorism, said David Jacobs, consumer protection counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
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