US Tech Companies Alert Users to Data Requests, Data Requestors Get Huffy

US technology companies are increasingly ignoring suggestions to keep data requests secret from users, according to the Washington Post. Not only are these requests ignored, but that ignoring has started to become policy.

Government agencies angry over business data transparency policiesGovernment agencies angry over business data transparency policies

A criminal investigation sometimes leads to a subpoena from a company such as Apple, Facebook, or Google. Instead of keeping it quiet, user policy agreements are being updated to notify users if their data is part of that investigation. Subpoenas have instructions on the front asking that subjects of data requests not be alerted, and that is the part being ignored.

Subpoenas are legal requests for information, where compliance can more easily be contested. Warrants are legal demands where compliance is the only option. A subpoena can be disputed in court before the request is followed. A warrant can only be sorted out afterwards. Or in simpler terms, a subpoena means “You should give me this,” where a warrant means “look what I just took.”

The best news here comes from Albert Gidari Jr, a partner at Perkins Coie who represents several technology companies. “It serves to chill the unbridled, cost-free collection of data,” he said.

On the upside, this means sometimes data requests are dropped so the subject doesn’t learn about the investigation. On the downside, this is not 100% of data seizure requests made. Certain types of investigations come with legally binding gag orders, where no notification is possible.

It is worth noting that a factory reset is apparently exceptionally thorough, since forensic investigators have complained they are unable to salvage data from a restored device.

It can be confusing to follow, but I recommend reading the piece at the Washington Post since it outlines the evolution of data requests over the years, and how those requests are being handled by different companies.

[Some image elements courtesy Shutterstock]