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Google Reports "Alarming" Government Requests for Censorship in 2011

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, June 18 2012

Google says it continues to see cases of governments asking Google to remove political speech, which are 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."

This interpretation comes alongside newly released data from July to December 2011 detailing governmental requests to remove content from its search results or websites.

In terms of raw numbers, Google was able to disclose more items requested for removal through court order coming from the United States (3,800), Germany (1,300) and Australia (633) than from other countries. But in terms of compliance, Google's rate of implementing those requests was 40 percent for the United States, 80 percent for Germany and 17 percent for Australia. For removal requests from other branches of government or the police, the countries with the highest number of items requested removed were the U.S. with over 2,300, the U.K. with 750 and Germany with 418. However, the compliance rate for those countries is 44 percent, 54 percent and 72 percent. In that category, Switzerland, Thailand, Kazachstan and Malaysia had a 100 percent compliance rate.

Google also revealed some details about certain requests.

In the United States, Google said it did not comply with a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove a blog because of a post that "allegedly defamed a law enforcement official in a personal capacity." Google also did not reply with a request from a local law enforcement agency to "to remove 1,400 YouTube videos for alleged harassment." But it partially responded to a different local law enforcement agency to remove five user accounts that allegedly contained threatening and/or harassing content. Google says it removed four of those accounts, resulting in the removal of approximately 300 videos, but did not remove the fifth account with 54 videos. In response to a court order to remove 218 search results that linked to allegedly defamatory websites, Google removed 25 percent of the results in the request.

In Germany, Google says it receives lists of sites from a federal government youth protection agency that contain content that violates German youth protection law, like content touting Nazi memorabilia, extreme violence or pornography, and may remove those search results from Google.de. Google says that in response to a court order, it removed 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 response to a request to remove 70 YouTube videos for allegedly violating the German Children and Young Persons Act, Google says it restricted some of the videos from view in Germany.

In Britain, Google says it removed 640 videos that violated YouTube's community guidelines.

In Thailand, Google said it received four requests from the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology in Thailand "to remove 149 YouTube videos for allegedly insulting the monarchy in violation of Thailand's lèse-majesté law." Google says it restricted 70 percent of those videos from view in Thailand in the accordance with local law.

Google says it did not comply with a request from the Canadian passport office to delete a video of a Canadian citizen urinating on his passport and flushing it down the toilet.

Google also revealed which countries requested data pertaining to specific users. In that category, the country in which requests encompassed the highest number of users and accounts was the United States with 12,243. Google says its compliance rate for the data requested was 93 percent. The other other top countries were India, where it had a compliance rate of 66 percent for requests covering 3,427 users or accounts and Brazil, where it had a compliance rate of 90 percent for requests covering 2,222 users or accounts.

Google also recently for the first time began publishing content removals requested by companies for copyright reasons.