The recent incidents surrounding Prism, a large scale electronic surveillance program managed by the NSA, have sparked a new privacy debate in the United States and around the world.
While alleged whistleblower Edward Snowden is hiding from U.S. authorities to avoid prosecution for possible treason, the discussion about the necessary trade offs between personal freedom and national security has sprung back to life.
Technology companies such as Google and Facebook have denied allegations that they granted the NSA wide-ranging access to user data. Both companies are currently seeking permission to publish aggregate data about NSA data inquiries, in order to maintain a large degree of transparency and regain user trust.
Government inquiries are very common for companies such as Google, and the company has always been very open about it. In a biannual transparency report, Google publishes the number of user data requests it receives from law enforcement agencies around the world. Requests from intelligence agencies such as the NSA are currently not included in the report and Google is trying to change that.
The transparency reports reveal that U.S. authorities turn to Google seeking for user information much more frequently than agencies from any other country.
In the second half of 2012 alone, Google received 8,438 requests from U.S. officials. In 88 percent of these cases, Google complied with the request and delivered at least parts of the requested data.