India is at second place after the US in terms of the government requests for user data from Google

The Indian government made the second largest demand for Web user information — next only to the United States government — to Google in the six-month period from January to June this year, according to the ‘Transparency Report’ published by the Web services major on Tuesday.

During the six-month period, the Indian government — both by way of court orders and by way of requests from police— requested Google to disclose user information 2,319 times over 3,467 users/accounts. Google fully or partially complied with the request to the tune of 64 per cent. Only the U.S. government requested more data during the period — 7,969 requests over 16,281 accounts, compliance rate: 90 per cent.

It is the sixth time Google has brought out the bi-annual report detailing its interactions with the world government agencies. It details two categories of interactions : requests to divulge user data; and requests to pull down content. India ranked seventh in the list of requests to pull down data; experts say that the possible reason could be the government not having such powers under the Constitution.

Pranesh Prakash, policy director with Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society, said that the Google report was a damning indictment of the country’s government exceeding its constitutional bounds by demanding removal of material for defamation, government criticism, etc., without a valid court order. “There are no laws in our country that allows the executive or the police to remove such material without a court order.”

Substantial spike

In all, 33 countries figure in the report. There was a substantial spike when compared to previous reports with respect to the number of requests from various governments to pull down content.

“In the first half of 2012, there were 20,938 inquiries from government entities around the world. Those requests were for information about 36,614 accounts,” wrote Dorothy Chou, Google’s senior policy analyst, on the Official Google Blog while presenting the report. “The number of government requests to remove content from our services was largely flat from 2009 to 2011. But it’s spiked in this reporting period. In the first half of 2012, there were 1,791 requests from government officials around the world to remove 17,746 pieces of content.”

Google is leading the cause for voluntary disclosure of the interactions it has with the governments. Other web services that put out similar transparency reports include micro-blogging site Twitter; cloud storage service Dropbox; and social networking site Linkedin.

Mr. Prakash said it was not enough if just the web services put out such reports. “The telecom service providers must voluntarily come out with such information,” he added.

“There is a dearth of public information about the amount of legal interception and surveillance. This does not bode well in a democratic polity.”