Govt user data requests need reforms to curb unwanted gag orders: Google

One of those rules lets the government seek orders to prevent providers like Google from telling users about demands for data.

San Francisco: Google has demanded reforms in the practice of governments seeking users’ personal information and then issuing gag orders against the citizens.

“As our lives continue to become more digitised, laws governing government access to personal information need to evolve to protect both public safety and civil liberties,” Kent Walker, President of Global Affairs, Google and Alphabet, said.

The governments across the world seek orders to prevent providers like Google from telling users about demands for data.

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These so-called non-disclosure orders (NDOs) or “gag orders” have become commonplace.

“We’ve seen NDOs issued in cases where the user is already aware of the investigation, and even of the legal demand itself. Similarly, we’ve seen NDOs issued covering legal requests for the data of well-established reputable organisations, even though notifying the organisation is highly unlikely to do harm,” Walker said.

The company has also seen some NDOs that might have been initially justified lasting years beyond the investigation, in some cases indefinitely.

“It’s time to reform this practice, requiring more robust review before gag orders are issued,” it said.

America’s Stored Communications Act sets the rules governing government demands to providers to disclose information about their users.

One of those rules lets the government seek orders to prevent providers like Google from telling users about demands for data.

“We commend the bipartisan House passage of the NDO Fairness Act, a bill sponsored by Chairman (Jerrold) Nadler and Representative (Scott) Fitzgerald that would make much-needed improvements to the Stored Communications Act,” said Walker.

This reform will ensure that gag orders are issued only where warranted and for reasonable periods, he added.

Google said it has long supported surveillance reform, including the Email Privacy Act, and legislation to allow providers to be more open about national security requests.

“Transparency for government data demands is an important check-and-balance, and we urge both the House and Senate to advance this practical protection for Americans in the digital age,” said the tech giant.

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