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Google reports dramatic rise in government censorship requests

Numbers released in a report by Google show that censorship requests around the world are on the rise and in countries we may least expect.

By Tineka Smith

Photo Credit: Greg McMullen

The figures have been released in Google’s Transparency report, which tracks the number of requests the search engine receives from governments around the world wanting user’s private data.

Google says that for the months of data between July and December of 2011 they complied with 65% of court orders opposed to 47% of informal requests.

Google points out that a lot of censorship request comes from countries "you might not suspect" like Western countries that are not usually associated with censoring content.

"Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different," said Dorothy Chou, Google senior policy analyst, on the company’s official blog. "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."

The data is the fifth round that Google has released and each time the company says it has been asked to take down content related to political opinion.

Spanish regulators asked the search engine to remove 270 search results linking to content which reference individuals and public figures. The company also received a requests from a public institution to remove links to a site which criticised it. Google says they did not comply with either of these requests.

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The search engine refused a request from the Ministry of Information Technology in Pakistan wanting the company to delete six videos poking fun at its politicians and army

Google also refused Canada’s passport office request to remove a video of a Canadian citizen urinating on his passport before flushing it down the toilet.

Google, however, deleted 640 videos for the Association of Chief Police Officers requesting that five accounts be closed for allegedly supporting terrorism

In the Transparency report the U.S. tops the charts with 6,321 requests to remove content, followed by India with 2,207, Brazil with 1,651 and the U.K. with 1,455.

Online content censorship grew 49% in India and 25% in the U.K.

Google granted the U.S. 93% of their requests, followed by Brazil with 90%, India with 66% and the U.K with 64%.

"We realise that the numbers we share can only provide a small window into what’s happening on the Web at large," says Chou. "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."

Please follow this author on Twitter @Tineka_S or comment below.


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