In light of the growing concern over private information security, Google recently released a video explaining what they do when government authorities request user information for criminal investigations. The video illustrates how Google follows the law, while still protecting their users’ info.
First, a judge signs a warrant. Then, Google has a screener who checks to make sure that they’re the right company (I.E. that the user is in fact one of Google’s), that it’s the right user, that the request isn’t vague, that the scope of the information is narrow to allow a timely response, and gather the data. They then hand the data over to the custodian, who verifies and authenticates in court that the information is accurate.
The video appeared on Google’s Take Action page that asks users to sign a petition promoting an open, free Internet. It’s perhaps the most pressing issue of our time, as it affects anyone and everyone who uses the web for anything.
Of course, warrants are only one way that the National Security Agency (NSA) can access private, digital information, as the surveillance scandal of last year revealed. President Obama tried to reassure the public that the NSA was only looking at telephony metadata, and not listening in to phone calls.
Others disputed that tracking metadata was just as bad as tracking content. The judge of an American Civil Liberties Union case noted that “metadata from each person’s phone ‘reflects a wealth of detail about her familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations.’”
While this was at the time a factual dispute, research from Stanford indicates that cellphone metadata analysis that paints quite detailed pictures of people, revealing a myriad of info such as their firearm ownership to their medical conditions.
“I think the concern is very realistic,” says Chris Traxler, Managing Partner at TSI. “Essentially, when you put your data on Google’s platform, Google retains the rights to that data, which means that you have very little privacy or control over it.”
While Google claims to do what it can, it’s not enough for individual users to sit idly by. While the Internet does have its dark corners that facilitate piracy, drug trafficking, and black-hat hacking, the net needs to remain neutral, lest we lose what could be the most important invention in history.