Google is not alone among Internet and telecommunications companies in feeling inundated with requests for information. Verizon told Congress in 2007 that it received some 90,000 such requests each year. And Facebook told Newsweek in 2009 that subpoenas and other orders were arriving at the company at a rate of 10 to 20 a day.
Many Internet companies and consumer advocates say the main law governing communication privacy — enacted in 1986, before cellphone and e-mail use was widespread, and before social networking was even conceived — is outdated, affording more protection to letters in a file cabinet than e-mail on a server.
They acknowledge that access to information is important for fighting crime and terrorism, but say they are dealing with a patchwork of confusing standards that have been interpreted inconsistently by the courts, creating uncertainty.