In the context of the Snowden and Prism scandal, Google released a transparency report, which discloses the number of judicial requests for disclosing information about Google service users by country over a period of three years. Data has been released in the aggregate form, for every six months since 2009.
The chart below puts the raw data released by Google in perspective, weighting it by the size of each nation’s Internet user population. The data, charted as number of requests per million users and number of accounts out of one million impacted by judicial requests, reveals that in 2009 -2010 the US was behind other nations, such as Brazil, Italy, or France, in terms of judicial requests for access to user data. However, in the last two years, the number of US judicial requests has increased dramatically. In December 2012 the US lead in terms of judicial requests and the trend promises to go up in the near future. France is closely behind US and also on an upward slope, while the other leading nations in terms of data requests, such as Germany, Italy, or UK, show a tendency for leveling off their requests for access to user data. The sixth nation in the world in terms of judicial requests to user data, Brazil, show a clear downward trend.
The chart below indicates that not only the number of judicial requests has increased, but also that the number of accounts involved by these requests has increased.
However, it is important to note that the proportion of people impacted by these requests is very, very small. We are talking about up to 60 people out of a million. For comparison, 47,000 people out of each million are involved in a car crash, in the US. In other words, you are more than 1,000 times more likely to be in a car crash, than to be involved in a governmental investigation related to your use of Google services.
However, Google is not the only service that might be investigated by the government. How scrutinized were other Internet services. This chart (see this post for documentation), indicates that the level of scrutiny of Microsoft or Facebook is not much higher.
While these figures increase the likelihood of governmental surveillance, the scope of such surveillance is yet to be fathomed. According to this document, published by Washington Post, there were about 117,000 “targets” actively pursued on PRISM in April 2013. This would be in tune with the data released by Microsoft, Facebook, and Google and would justify the conclusions drawn above. Of course, there are those who believe that most spying is done illegally, without much legal supervision, and that a program like PRISM, is in fact a type of vacuum cleaner for Internet data. Such claims need to be further investigated and hard facts and numbers need to be provided to get a better idea of how broad governmental surveillance in fact is.
NSA headquarters location