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Google: Western Democracies Guilty Of Internet Censorship

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Google Transparency Report paints a worrying picture

Today, Google has published the statistics on search result takedowns requested by governments around the world.

The information, aggregating requests for the period from July to December 2011 and available in the Google Transparency Report, shows the worldwide increase in government control of the Internet. Even more worrying is the fact that quite often, it’s the western governments that are leading this race.

National interests

Google launched the Transparency Report two years ago, to explain the disappearance of some links from search results. The project started off by sharing data about government requests to remove content from Google Search, and requests for information about individual users.

Last month, the company also began to publish information on search results taken down due to copyright infringement claims.

Governments can ask Google and other search engines to remove search results if they link to content they consider to be harmful or illegal. Defamatory content, hate speech or pornography often falls in this category.

“This is the fifth data set that we’ve released. And just like every other time before, we’ve been asked to take down political speech. It’s alarming not only because free expression is at risk, but because some of these requests come from countries you might not suspect—Western democracies not typically associated with censorship,” said Dorothy Chou, senior policy analyst at Google.

In the last six months of 2011, Google received 270 requests from the Spanish Data Protection Authority to remove search results linking to information about public figures. Meanwhile in Poland, a government institution asked Google to remove links to a site that criticised it. Google didn’t comply with any of these requests.

The new Transparency Report is the first to show how many takedowns Google  performed in response to court orders, as opposed to other, more informal types of requests from government agencies.

In Germany, a court order resulted in the removal of 898 search results that linked to forums and blogs containing statements about a government agency and one of its employees that the court determined were not credible.

In the UK, Google received a request from the Association of Chief Police Officers to remove five user accounts from youtube, whose videos allegedly promoted terrorism. Google found that these accounts were in breach of YouTube’s Community Guidelines. As a result, approximately 640 videos were removed. In total, Google received requests from the British authorities to remove 847 links, and complied with over a half.

The number of content removal requests search engine received from the US government has increased by 103 percent compared to the first half of 2011. Authorities requested 6192 links be excluded from search, out of which Google agreed to take down 42 percent.

America also led by the number of user data requests – 6,321 in the six moth period. For comparison,India, holding second place by the number of requests, had demanded user data just 2,207 times. UK ranked fourth, with 1,455 requests to identify users.

Some of the weirder examples of non-compliance include a request from the Canadian passport office to remove a YouTube video of a Canadian citizen urinating on his passport and flushing it down the toilet. Google chose not to comply with this request.

“We do hope that by being transparent about these government requests, we can continue to contribute to the public debate about how government behaviours are shaping our Web,” concluded Chou.

Earlier this month, Google had introduced a new feature that informs the users of its services when they are believed to be the target of state-sponsored cyber-attacks.

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