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FAIL.GOV – Government asks Dropbox for accounts that don't exist

Storage locker's transparency report shows rise in government data gobble attempts

Dropbox has released its transparency report for the first half of 2014 and says it's handled 120 search warrants, a pair of court orders, 109 subpoenas, between zero and 249 national-security-related requests and 37 requests from governments other than that of the USA. None of the requests pertained to business accounts.

Comically, the US government often asks for data in accounts that don't exist. Dropbox says it identified a total of 454 accounts in response to search warrants and subpoenas, but 14 search warrants and 16 subpoenas mentioned accounts that “ law enforcement specified … but that account did not exist.”

Splendid work there, law enforcement agencies. Keep it up.

When Dropbox gets a valid request it does one of three things:

  • Provide “non-content information” including any or all of “subscriber information such as the name and email address associated with the account; the date of account creation and other transactional information like IP addresses”;
  • Provide “content”, comprising “files stored in a person’s Dropbox account, in addition to non-content information”;
  • Nothing.

Providing non-content is the most-frequently-used response, so Dropbox is letting the authorities know how to find you when responding to requests. Which may or may not be futile seeing as it is possible to sign up to Dropbox with any old email address and access it through all sorts of IP-fuzzers.

Dropbox also says in the report that it heartily supports the USA FREEDOM Act, which aims to end bulk metadata collection by the US government. “We urge you to voice support for this bill so that it becomes law,” the company writes, “and we look forward to supporting similar reforms around the globe.”

The new transparency report covers only six months, a change from annual releases Dropbox says is needed because “the legal landscape surrounding government data requests and surveillance continues to evolve, it’s important to keep our Transparency Report as up-to-date as possible.” The company also has more requests to handle, with incoming queries growing "proportionately to Dropbox’s user base. ®

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