Google To Start Charging Law Enforcement For Accessing Your Data

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Google has alerted authorities in the U.S. that it will now be charging law enforcement a fee for accessing data requested in search warrants and subpoenas, following a move made by a number of telecommunication companies to “offset the costs” of producing the information.

The news comes via a report from The New York Times, who writes that in the wake of an increasing number of requests for users’ information, “Google began charging law enforcement and other government agencies this month for legal demands seeking data such as emails, location tracking information and search queries.”

Prices range from $45 for the most affordable request, a subpoena, $60 for a wiretap and up to $245 for a search warrant, according to a document reviewed by The New York Times reportedly submitted to law enforcement officials from Google. A report released from Google shows that there has been a 50% rise in the number of search warrants received in the first half of 2019 compared with 2018 figures; the number subpoenas have increased by 15%.

According to statistics published by the Times, Google received in excess of 75,000 requests for data on 165,000 user accounts worldwide in 2019; one-in-three of those were U.S.-based.

According to Gizmodo, “it has 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.”

A spokesperson from Google has stated that the company will not request reimbursement for cases including the safety and exploitation of children, as well as life-threatening emergencies.

“Federal law allows companies to charge the government reimbursement fees of this type, but Google’s decision is a major change in how it deals with legal requests,” writes Gabriel Dance and Jennifer Valentino-DeVries.

Some security experts and privacy advocates say the move could be a move to deter broad, sweeping surveillance measures from law enforcement; the price, however, isn’t prohibitively expensive.

Al Gidari, a lawyer who previously worked at Google and a number of tech companies and now heads Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society said that “none of these services were designed with exfiltrating data for law enforcement in mind.”

“The actual cost of doing wiretaps and responding to search warrants is high, and when you pass those costs on to the government, it deters from excessive surveillance.”

Senior prosecutor in Washington State, Gary Ernsdorff was critical of Google’s move, suggesting that it could provide a precedent for other tech companies to charge for access to customer data, and ultimately hamper investigations due to fiscal reasons. “Officers would have to make decisions when to issue warrants based on their budgets,” he said.

Ernsdorff did, however, add that Google’s response time to these requests has increased: “if they are getting revenue from it, maybe this will improve their performance,” he stated.

Mark Bruley, a deputy police chief in Minnesota said the impact to law enforcement would be minimal, adding that “I don’t see it impacting us too much… We are only using these warrants on major crimes, and their fees seem reasonable.”

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