Democratic govts not immune to censorship attempts, says Google

Judging by the numbers contained in Google’s latest bi-annual Transparency Report, governments and government officials around the world have lately been approaching the Internet giant with content takedown requests with increasing frequency.

But whether they were satisfied with the results is another story.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different,” shared Dorothy Chou, Senior Policy Analyst with Google.

“When we started releasing this data in 2010, we also added annotations with some of the more interesting stories behind the numbers. We noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it’s not.”

Most of the time, it’s content that would fall under the heading of “limiting free speech”, and the fact that alarms Google the most is that a good chunk of these requests came from Western democracies – countries that are not usually associated with censorship.

Still, not all requests were complied with. All in all, 65% of court orders and 47% of informal requests were deemed to be justifiable and the content in question was removed.

But requests by the Spanish Data Protection Authority to remove 270 search results that linked to blogs and sites referencing individuals and public figures were rejected.

And the same happened to the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development’s requests to remove a search result that criticized the agency as well as eight more that linked to it; the request by a US local law enforcement agency to remove a blog because of a post that allegedly defamed a law enforcement official in a personal capacity; the Passport Canada office’s request to remove a YouTube video of a Canadian citizen urinating on his passport and flushing it down the toilet; and many others.

On the other hand, Google did take down – or at least restrict access to – some of the content that was deemed to be against the laws of a particular country: YouTube videos allegedly insulting the monarchy in Thailand; videos allegedly violating the German Children and Young Persons Act; and so on.

Orkut and YouTube accounts were also suspended for promoting terrorism or posting harassing or defamatory content.

“We’ve rounded up some additional interesting facts in the annotations section of the Transparency Report,” added Chou. “We realize that the numbers we share can only provide a small window into what’s happening on the Web at large. But we do hope that by being transparent about these government requests, we can continue to contribute to the public debate about how government behaviors are shaping our Web.”

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