Singapore Law Watch

28Apr10

Singapore Law Watch.

Title: Police sought Google user info
Source: Straits Times
Author: Chua Hian Hou

Legal News Archive

SINGAPORE police and other law enforcement agencies have, over several occasions last year, asked Internet search giant Google to surrender information on its users.

Although Google refused to say what information was requested, The Straits Times understands that it could include what a user was looking for, when and where he used a Google service like Blogger, and even the contents of his Gmail account.

So far, police have asked for information on 62 Internet users, over a six-month period between July and December 2009.

Google disclosed this on a new website, http://www.google.com/governmentrequests, on Wednesday.

On the official Google blog, the company’s chief legal officer David Drummond said it ‘regularly receives requests from law enforcement agencies to hand over private user data… The vast majority of these requests are valid, and the information needed is for legitimate criminal investigations’.

Police spokesman Tham Yee Lin would say only that information obtained during police investigations is confidential.

Google spokesman Dickson Seow declined to elaborate on the specifics of Singapore’s requests. He said the company has always tried to protect its users’ privacy and therefore does not automatically comply with every such request. He added that whether it complies, and the extent to which it does, depends on the specifics of the case.

But lawyer Bryan Tan, who specialises in technology-related issues, said that companies like Google have to comply so long as the requesting party has the right to such information.

For instance, in pursuing an online scam, the police can ask Google for details of the alleged scammer’s Google profile, so that they can get clues to the perpetrator’s identity. Such requests are unlikely to meet much resistance, said Mr Tan.

A total of 40 countries had requested information about its users, said Google.

Law enforcement officials from Brazil, where Google’s Orkut social networking site is very popular, topped the list with 3,663 requests, ahead of the United States (3,580), the United Kingdom (1,166) and India (1,061).

But there was a noticeable absence in its list: China. By way of explanation, Google said ‘Chinese officials consider censorship demands as state secrets, so we cannot disclose that information at this time’.

Besides requests for user data, the world’s most popular search engine – which also owns the YouTube video-streaming service, the Blogger weblog host, Google Maps and Street View virtual maps – received a number of requests to remove content on its sites over the same period.

‘Many of these requests are entirely legitimate, such as requests for the removal of child pornography,’ said Mr Drummond.

Some requests, though, may be over civil complaints, said Mr Seow.

Examples include a band asking Google to remove a YouTube video which made use of its songs without permission, or an allegedly defamatory blog posting. There were fewer than 10 such requests; it complied with just half, Google said.

chuahh@sph.com.sg

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