Google Transparency Report: Government Records Removal Requests

  • 23 December 2013
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The number of government requests to remove content from Google's services has grown dramatically in the last year, according to Google's latest Transparency Report.
Google received 3,846 government requests to remove 24,737 pieces of content between January and June 2013 – a 68 percent increase over the second half of 2012.
The company singled out two countries as being particularly zealous in their removal requests during the first half of the year – Turkey and Russia.
Google received 1,673 requests from Turkish authorities to remove content from its platforms during the period, nearly a tenfold increase over the second half of last year. About two-thirds of the total requests called for the removal of content related to alleged violations of law 5651, which regulates crimes committed via the Internet.
There has also been an uptick in requests from Russia, since a blacklist law took effect last autumn, which prohibits the distribution of child pornography, advocacy of drug abuse and drug production instructions, suicide advocacy or any information on suicide methods. Google received 257 removal requests from Russia during this reporting period, which is more than double the number of requests it received throughout 2012.

"Over the past four years, one worrying trend has remained consistent: governments continue to ask us to remove political content," said Google legal director Susan Infantino in a blog post.

"Judges have asked us to remove information that’s critical of them, police departments want us to take down videos or blogs that shine a light on their conduct, and local institutions like town councils don’t want people to be able to find information about their decision-making processes. These officials often cite defamation, privacy and even copyright laws in attempts to remove political speech from our services.
"In this particular reporting period, we received 93 requests to take down government criticism and removed content in response to less than one third of them. Four of the requests were submitted as copyright claims."
In the UK Google received 117 requests for 556 items to be removed. One request came from a law firm representing a former MP to remove a preview from Google Books that allegedly defamed the MP by suggesting he was engaged in illegal activity. Another came from a local government council to remove a blog post that allegedly defamed the council.
Meanwhile, the US Google requested the removal of 3,887 items, including one from a local law enforcement official to remove a search result linking to a news article about his record as an officer.
"While the information we present in our Transparency Report is certainly not a comprehensive view of censorship online, it does demonstrate a worrying upward trend in the number of government requests, and underscores the importance of transparency around the processes governing such requests," said Infantino.
"As we continue to add data, we hope it will become increasingly useful and informative in policy debates and decisions around the world."
Google recently teamed up with Facebook, Microsoft and others in the US to fight for the right to disclose information about government requests for users' data, in the wake of the NSA PRISM scandal.
David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller in July, asking for permission to report aggregate numbers of "national security requests".
“Google has nothing to hide,” Drummond’s letter said. Transparency will “serve the public interest without harming national security.”

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