Today is Data Privacy Day 2013 and Google has decided to make it official with a set of clarifications on how they deal with government requests for data. This is a topic that Google has made a point to be as clear as possible about in the past, just recently having released a new report on how many requests for data they'd received (and how many they'd filled) in 2012. Google is also letting the world know today that they're continuing efforts to uphold such laws as the U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act in their deeds and through their membership in the Digital Due Process coalition as well.
In their celebratory news burst today, Google has listed several points on how they make it their mission to have a strict process for working with all government agency requests for the personal information of users that work, on, and around Google. It's more than a few times a year that the U.S. government sends a request to Google for the information you've provided to Google for a variety of reasons. When this happens, Google goes through a set of steps that starts with checks, checks, and more checks.
Google makes sure first that what they're about to do - or refrain from doing - abides by both the law and their own set of strict policies. The Google team requires that all requests for information by "in writing" as well as signed by an authorized official of the requesting agency. They also check that the agency making the request is abiding by the law and that the request they're making is issued under the appropriate law - no willy-nilly action here!
When a request is made and is found to be legal, Google evaluates the scope of the request. If the request is too broad, Google notes that they'll ask that the information request be narrowed - Google says that they do this sort of thing "frequently." After the request is made, if Google is able to notify the users whose information is being requested of that request, they'll notify them of the situation. If Google is not able to notify the parties in question (if they're legally prohibited, that is), they'll try to "lift gag orders or unseal search warrants" to move forward in notifying all parties involved.
Google also makes clear here today that they require a search warrant for all government agencies conducting criminal investigations if they're seeking to "provide a user's search query information private content stored in a Google Account." This information includes, but is not limited to, Gmail messages, photos and documents in your Google Drive account, and YouTube videos (public and private).
This week Google has also added a new section to their Transparency Report that'll answer any other questions you might have - or so they hope: Transparency Report Legal Process (Q and A). Make sure you're aware of your rights and keep in mind the golden rule of the internet: if you post it, someone has it. Assume nothing when it comes to privacy on the world wide web, and if you want to keep something a secret, just don't say it!