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The United States government requests the most user data from Big Tech companies

Globally, during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of accounts specified in data requests for government surveillance increased from 0.9M to 1.3M

The latest study by cybersecurity company Surfshark shows that the United States ranks 1st in government surveillance based on the number of accounts specified in data requests by the local authorities and law enforcement agencies. In total, over 5 million accounts were requested in 177 countries from 2013 to 2020, with a steady increase in the latest years. The research shows that the US and EU authorities request the most data. Apple complied with the most user data requests (80%) compared to Microsoft, Facebook, and Google (from 69% to 72%).

Surfshark's research analyzes user data requests that Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft received from 177 countries' local authorities between 2013 and 2020. The cases of requests are related to government surveillance and law enforcement when digital evidence is needed in legal processes.

The research shows that the US ranks 1st in the world based on the online accounts requested by authorities over this time period (585 accounts per 100k people), followed by Germany (489/100k) and the UK (486/100k). The US made 773% more requests than the global average (67/100K). The latest data also reveals that all countries requested more than 5M accounts combined during an 8-year period. 

Global trends show that government surveillance is growing

The number of accounts requested globally increased more than four times from 2013 to 2020, with 2020 seeing the most significant year-over-year increase of almost 40%. The United States shows the same trend, with a 309% (4-fold) increase from 2013 to 2020. This is almost 2 million accounts during these 8 years. Requested accounts grew by 23% in 2020 compared to 2019.

"The massive growth of online crime in 2020 went hand-in-hand with the increase in data requests that Big Tech companies received," says Agneska Sablovskaja, Lead Reasearcher at Surfshark. "Globally, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a staggering year-over-year growth of accounts requested for government surveillance from 0.9M to 1.3M. This could be attributed to everything moving online, including crime."

US and EU authorities request the most data

The US and Europe account for nearly two-thirds of all accounts of interest from 2013 to 2020. However, the US requested more than double the accounts per 100K people than all the EU countries combined. Looking at the top 10, five countries are from the EU. The UK, Australia, Singapore, and Taiwan comprise the rest.

The overall disclosure rate in the US is 82.5%, meaning that 8 out of every 10 account information requests are fulfilled. The disclosure rate has been steadily growing in the US from 2013 to 2020 by 1% YoY. Facebook and Google are the ones that have received the highest percentage of disclosed accounts to the authorities in the US, 85.5% and 81% respectively. 

Globally, from 2013 to 2020, the number of disclosed requests grew by almost 280%. Apple has been leading in disclosure rates since 2016, raising them from 75% in 2016 to 85% in 2020. The remaining companies, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, average at 70%. More than half (58%) of all requests that Apple complied with came from the US.

Google's disclosure rate has been increasing by nearly 4% every year since 2016. It peaked at 76% in 2020, placing Google 2nd behind Apple. Facebook's disclosure rate has been slowly decreasing, although it remains significantly higher than in 2013 (73% vs. 63%). Even though Microsoft did have the highest disclosure rate between 2013-2015, it has the lowest percentage of complied requests out of all companies since 2018.
Published Tuesday, August 02, 2022 2:56 PM by David Marshall
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