For a few years now, Google has been publishing a bi-annual transparency report to let us know how many times governments around the world have petitioned the company for user data. The reports were always missing a few things though - specifically National Security Letters and FISA request numbers. NSL numbers were finally published last year, and now Google can do the same with FISA requests.
Google announced that it finally has permission to publish FISA request numbers from 2009 onwards. Unfortunately, the government has imposed a six month delay so we don't have access to the numbers from July to December for last year. January to June and back, however, is a somewhat detailed look at the number of FISA requests Google receives from the government every six months.
As you will see below, Google is forced to report numbers on a scale of 1,000. That means it can only let us know that it receives between 0 and 999 FISA requests every six months. We do get to see numbers for content and non-content requests which are arguably more interesting as the number of content requests skyrocketed to over 10,000 in the latter half of 2012.
Google reminds us that FISA requires them to hand over a users' personal information and the content of their communications whenever the government comes knocking with a court order. That's why the company feels it's incredibly important to keep fighting for the right to publish precise numbers so it can let its users know exactly how many user data requests are made every six months. After all, there's a pretty big difference between 0 and 999.
To that end, Google is championing legislation in both the House and Senate - H.R. 3035 and S. 1621. Both would allow private entities to report the exact number of information requests they receive from the government. Unfortunately, both bills have only been referred to a committee thus far and it doesn't look like either will be picked up anytime soon.
Despite the above bills not having much chance, reform may come in the form of Sen. Patrick Leahy's USA FREEDOM Act. It seeks to end the dragnet surveillance of Americans' communications, reform the FISA court and more. Google may want to throw some weight behind Leahy's bill as it's the only surveillance-related bill currently floating around Congress that has any chance of passing.
Image via Google