The government doesn't know that you just typed "do I have pink eye" into Google's search bar, nor would it know immediately if some guy Googled "what is it like to kill someone". But if that person's curiosity led to real action — if he committed murder , and was later charged with the crime — government law enforcement agencies might request access to his Google account information to look for clues about the criminal activity in his email and search activity.
According to the latest Google Transparency Report, posted Oct. 25., law enforcement agencies within the United States government requested user data from 11,057 Google accounts during the first half of 2011. Google complied with 93 percent of those requests. Thus, the government did "know" what several thousand suspected criminals Googled, at least up until the time of its data requests.
"The number of requests we receive for user account information as part of criminal investigations has increased year after year. The increase isn't surprising, since each year we offer more products and services, and we have a larger number of users," Google stated in the report.
In 2009, when concerns were raised about Google user data being available to the government upon request, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." [7 Tips for Protecting Your Online Reputation]
He continued, "If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines — including Google — do retain this information for some time and it's important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities."