One big problem is that these requests are still governed by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, which was written when people still had rotary phones, fax machines were the whizzy new communications technology, and mobile handsets were multi-thousand-dollar bricks like the prop sported by Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street."
Among other asinine details, the ECPA declares that any opened electronic messages stored on a server for more than 180 days are officially "abandoned," and thus accessible to law enforcement via only a subpoena. I don't know about you, but I've had a Webmail account since at least 1999. That means tens of thousands of my messages are ready to be plucked out at any moment by any fed with sufficient interest in my inane correspondence. (Note: According to this report in Wired, Google requires a probable cause warrant before it turns over any email messages, despite what the ECPA might allow.)
The other troubling aspect of this is the vast universe of Google properties any request can touch -- email, search, shopping, travel, social networks, photos, yadda yadda. If it has to do with your data, Google probably has a copy of it. Talk about your one-stop-shopping. It's really nice of them to do the cops' dirty work, don't you think?
Many folks inside DC know that the ECPA is desperately in need of a full body makeover; it even looked like that might happen last fall after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a much-improved version. Unfortunately, our lovely Congress punted entirely on a new bill that would have required the spooks to get a warrant before pawing through our old emails. Now ECPA reform is in limbo -- so, for that matter, is any notion that you can control the data Google has on you.
What does Google know about you and when did it know it? Post your confessions below or email me: email@example.com.
This article, "Google provides a smorgasbord of your data for the government's snooping eyes," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.