In a major step forward for transparency, Google today offered the first batch of disclosures made pursuant to new U.S. Department of Justice rules allowing companies to publish statistics on government data requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The results could strike some as surprising.

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As can be seen in the table above, the “non-content” FISA requests Google has received (which is to say, requests about the addressing and forwarding packets of email and other communications, better known as “metadata”) have covered less than 1,000 users every six months, dating back to early 2009. By contrast, requests for the actual content of emails have grown steadily over time, covering between 21,000 and 23,000 users from mid-2012 to mid-2013.

Under Section 702 of Foreign Intelligence Services Act, American intelligence agencies can require U.S. companies to hand over users’ personal information and the content of their communications, under the supervision of one of the 11 federal judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Google had sued to be allowed to disclose how many FISA requests they receive and how many users and accounts those requests covered. New DOJ rules allow them to make those figures public, subject to a six month-delay.

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