How do governments affect access to information on the Internet? To help shed some light on that very question, last year we launched an online, interactive Transparency Report. All too often, policy that affects how information flows on the Internet is created in the absence of empirical data. But by showing traffic patterns and disruptions to our services, and by sharing how many government requests for content removal and user data we receive from around the world, we hope to offer up some metrics to contribute to a public conversation about the laws that influence how people communicate online.
Today we’re updating the Government Requests tool with numbers for requests that we received from January to June 2011. For the first time, we’re not only disclosing the number of requests for user data, but we’re showing the number of users or accounts that are specified in those requests too. We also recently released the raw data behind the requests. Interested developers and researchers can now take this data and revisualize it in different ways, or mash it up with information from other organizations to test and draw up new hypotheses about government behaviors online.
We believe that providing this level of detail highlights the need to modernize laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which regulates government access to user information and was written 25 years ago—long before the average person had ever heard of email. Yet at the end of the day, the information that we’re disclosing offers only a limited snapshot. We hope others join us in the effort to provide more transparency, so we’ll be better able to see the bigger picture of how regulatory environments affect the entire web.