In its latest Transparency Report, Google revealed that Indian law enforcement agencies had made 3,452 requests to get access to user data during January-June period this year. The requests affected 6,207 users (accounts) with Google producing information for 55 per cent of the requests.
While the number of requests for user data being made by India has been steadily on the rise, it's in line with global trends. Moreover, as India's base of internet users grows, cybercrime is on the rise and agencies are increasingly turning to digital logs to prosecute offenders.
India has been among the top five countries in requesting user data from Google since 2009, which is as far back as the company will go to reveal data for requests made by governments. The data reveal that requests from governments across the globe have been increasing by around 5,000 on a half-yearly basis over the past two years.
The US, France, Germany, the UK, and Brazil have been some of the top requesters of user data, alongside India. In the January-June period, 44,943 requests were made to Google to reveal user data, up from 40,677 requests in the July-December period last year. During the first half of this year, India ranked fourth among countries in making such requests. In July-December 2015, India was fifth.
India's internet user base has grown from around 90 million in 2010 to nearly half a billion in 2016 and this growth remains steady with the increasing penetration of smartphones. Over 200 million Indians own smartphones today and that number is expected to hit half a billion by 2020, say analysts.
While it cannot be ascertained why the Indian government made requests to get access to sensitive user data, majority of these could be made by law enforcement agencies with regard to crimes committed. However, as seen with the Edward Snowden leaks, governments often misuse data from technology firms such as Google to spy on civilians. Edward Snowden, a former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, now lives in Russia after fleeing the US via Hong Kong in May, having revealed extensive internet and phone surveillance by US intelligence.
The US continues to lead the pack with 14,168 requests for user data being made during the January-June period this year. Germany and France have stepped up their data requests over the past year, probably owing to the slew of terrorist attacks that shocked Europe recently. As internet penetration grows across the globe, more governments are turning to digital trails to prevent and solve crime while also keeping a close watch on suspects.
Google's report shows this trend, but doesn't necessarily reflect the extent to which digital surveillance is done.