Google: U.S. government censorship, private user data requests on the rise

Google: U.S. government censorship, private user data requests on the rise

Government censorship of the Web, including attempts from Western democracies to silent political speech, rose significantly during the second half of 2011, according to the most recent data released by Google. Of the 1007 requests from governments around the world to take down content, including YouTube videos and search results, Google complied with more than half of them.

Google has also seen a jump in government requests for users’ private data, with the U.S. government issuing more than 6,000 such requests.

News of a spike in censorship and user data requests from governments around the world comes with the release of the biannual Google Transparency Report, first launched in 2010, which Google posted online late Sunday night.

The reasons for, and nature of, the censorship request vary widely: defamation, hate speech, pornography, privacy and security, national security, impersonation, electoral law, copyright infringement, and that forever-vauge category “other.”

During the second half of last year (July through December), U.S. government agencies issued a total of 187 requests for the removal of 6,192 individual items. Of those, 117 were formal requests, while the remaining 70 requests came in an informal manner (such as a phone call). Google says that it complied with 40 percent of the formal take-down requests, and 44 percent of the informal ones.

Only Brazil issued more individual requests than the the U.S., but sought the take-down of a fraction of the content compared to the U.S. government.

In terms of private user data, the U.S. government issued 6,321 total requests of information from 12,243 accounts during the July through December 2011 period. That marks a 37 percent increase from the previous six months, during which U.S. government agencies asked that Google supply user data 5,950 times, which concerned 11,057 accounts. Google’s senior policy analyst Dorothy Chou tells Forbes that many of the requests are for user IP addresses, which are used by local law enforcement in criminal cases.

In both the first and second parts of 2011, Google complied with user data requests from U.S. government agencies 93 percent of the time.

While the U.S. government is the most active in terms of issuing content take-downs and user data, Google does not single out the U.S. as filing an egregious number of politics-related requests, though it does say such request do come from “Western democracies.”

“For example, in the second half of last year, Spanish regulators asked us to remove 270 search results that linked to blogs and articles in newspapers referencing individuals and public figures, including mayors and public prosecutors,” writes Chou in a blog post. “In Poland, we received a request from a public institution to remove links to a site that criticized it. We didn’t comply with either of these requests.”

To view the full Google Transparency Report, click here.

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