In the course of investigations, the police regularly calls on Google to provide data. To “offset the costs” associated with the procedures that Google has to follow to pass on this information, Google has decided that it will charge for legal data disclosure requests. In its view, this decision by Google is necessary, as it is increasingly being requested. The U.S. police are increasingly calling on Google for data such as mobile location data.
The fees paid to it could help Google cover the costs of simultaneous requests, especially as these requests change over time, just as legislation and association sometimes make things complicated from Google’s perspective. According to Al Gidari, a former Google lawyer, these costs could act as a deterrent, particularly to combat excessive surveillance.
There are, however, a few situations where Google will not create bills, and these mainly concern investigations involving the safety of young people and life-threatening emergencies.
While the chief prosecutor of Washington State has expressed concern about this decision, the deputy director of the Minnesota police said it should not affect them too much because they only use the practice “for major crimes and Google’s fees seem reasonable.”
Since January 13, Google has been charging law enforcement and other government agencies when they rely on the U.S. giant for data such as email, location data, and search queries. According to a Google spokesman, the decision was made to cover the costs of complying with law enforcement requests. Thus, the amounts claimed, depending on the type of request, could range from $45 to $245. In 2019, Google received more than 75,000 requests only in the first half, with one in three requests coming from U.S. law enforcement agencies.
This practice is allowed under federal law. However, it is not common in the U.S. because it is challenging to apply this fee schedule on a large scale. Google’s decision is, therefore, a significant change in the way it deals with requests but also for companies in Silicon Valley, who see this practice being applied. It will not, however, be the first time that the giant has charged for requests for information. In 2008, the company had already resorted to this practice, and a spokesperson said that it had not systematically invoiced legal procedures, but that this would now be the case.
Other companies such as Twitter or Microsoft could charge law enforcement, but the two companies did not want to indicate whether they were already doing so or not.