The Business-Technology Weave

Jul 5 2011   9:56AM GMT

Google and Information Privacy

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott


Google has reported it gave user information to the Federal Government 94% of the time the government requested it.

These requests are allegedly parts of criminal investigations.  Still, it raises the question:  Does government have the right to demand information from a private company?

Yes, it does in any of three ways:

1.      A grand jury can send a subpoena to a company.

2.      A Federal judge can sign a search warrant; an FBI agent delivers it to the company.

3.      An FBI agent, or any Federal agent, may write his or her own search warrant; authorizing himself or herself to search the company.

This may be of interest to some readers here.  In fact, it should be of interest to all readers – and in particular, to business stakeholders.  I define “business stakeholder” very broadly:  From a temporary worker at a desk for a day, to the senior executive class, and everybody in between. 

In other words, if you’re under a business’ roof, doing business on business’ behalf, you’d better exercise care in what you’re doing:

You must secure and protect business reputation;

you must secure and protect your own.


Remember this:  Business’ #1 asset is not “our people” – as business so often likes to say:  “Our number one asset is our people.”  No.  Business’ #1 asset is its reputation:  Lose that, and your people won’t have a place to work.

Can Google give private info about what you’ve Googled to the Federal Government without you knowing it?  Well, they have been.  Here’s the number of Google’s deliveries to government requests, July through December 2010:

U.S.            4061

Brazil         1804

India          1699

U.K.            1162

France       1021

(Source:  Fox News)

Government is starting to peer into many of the things were doing, potentially invading our privacy.  Is government avoiding the 4th amendment, which protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure, by going to a private company?  Further, what are the privacy and business implications when the government asks an enterprise such as Google for employee activities when under any business’ roof, on business time?

Does any consumer or business (the user of Google’s services) have an “unwritten contract” that Google will keep Google searches to themselves?

The answer is:  No.  There is no written, or unwritten, guarantee of discretion, and no promissory estopple.  Thus, for individual and business alike, there are serious issues and vulnerabilities.  What are Google’s standards for giving information to the government?  Do they just cave in to requests?  Do they have their internal lawyers call the government and qualify these requests to any degree?  What are the criteria for denial or acquiescence?

In some ways, the government is asking the private sector to act as their… spy, essentially.  

This is why, in the age of eDiscovery, it is essential for businesses, large and small, to have robust and clearly understood Acceptable Use policies.  Security policies.  Content Management policies.  Further, make certain that employees understand and adhere to policies – and that they know the consequences for misuse of content, search engines, and other business resources.

Stay safe out there.



NP:  Don’t Worry About Me, Sachal Vasandani

1  Comment on this Post

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  • KobyCollins
    Twice yearly, Google has made it a point to produce data about government requests. Most often, these requests are for private individual data or to eliminate distinct bits of content from the web. Google says this report provides two functions. First, to be as transparent as you can about the inquiries those are and are not fulfilled for and by the government. Second, it is a way to prove that the rules that govern digital privacy need to be reformed. [A href=""]Government requests for user data on the rise, says Google[/A]
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