June 19, 2012
Censorship or Sensibility? Led By U.S. Authorities, Global Governments Are Asking Google To Remove More Content — Web-Dominating Company Increasingly Under Pressure To Comply With Varying National Mandates
Governments regularly zero in on Web titan Google because its services have become staples of our digital-driven lives — besides running the Internet's most dominant search engine, Google owns the most watched video site in YouTube, operates widely used blogging and email services and distributes Android, the top operating system on mobile phones. Many of these governmental requests are legitimate attempts to enforce laws governing hot-button issues ranging from personal privacy to hate speech. But Google says it increasingly fields requests from government agencies trying to use their power to suppress political opinions and other material they don't like. And now, U.S. authorities are leading the charge as governments around the world pepper the search giant with more demands to remove online content and turn over information about people using its services. Google provided a glimpse at the onslaught of government requests in a summary posted on its website over the weekend, a breakdown covering the last six months of 2011. The country-by-country capsule illustrates the pressure Google faces as it tries to obey the disparate laws in various countries while trying to uphold its commitment to free expression and protect the sanctity its more than 1 billion users' personal information. "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," Dorothy Chou, Google's senior policy analyst, wrote in a blog post, an AP news release reports. That comment may have been aimed at the U.S., where police prosecutors, courts and other government agencies submitted 187 requests to remove content from July through December last year — more than doubling from 92 requests from January through June, according to the AP release.
This makes the fifth time that Google has released a six-month snapshot of government requests since the company engaged in a high-profile battle over online censorship with China's communist leadership in 2010. Only Brazil's government agencies submitted more content removal requests than the U.S., with a total of 194 during the final half of last year. But that figure was down from 224 requests in Brazil during the first half of the year. Brazil's requests covered a more narrow range of content than the U.S. demands. The submissions from Brazil covered 554 different pieces of content while the U.S. requests sought to censor nearly 6,200 items, reports the news release by AP writer Michael Liedtke.
Other governments frequently reaching out to Google included Germany (103 content-removal requests, down 18 percent from the previous six-month period), and India (101 requests, a 49 percent increase). At least four countries — Bolivia, the Czech Republic, Jordan and Ukraine — asked Google to remove content for the first time during the final six months of last year. Meanwhile, governments also are leaning on Google more frequently for information about people suspected of breaking the law or engaging in other mischief, the release reports.