In the latest update of its Transparency Report, Google says it has received more than 1,000 official requests from governments to take down content from search results or YouTube in the last six months of 2011.
"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," stated Dorothy Chou, Google’s senior policy analyst, in a blog post. "Unfortunately, what we've seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it's not."
The 12,000 items covered in this fifth data set since Google started launching the report two years ago ranged from politics to virtual/public urination and statehood desecration and it’s an increasingly sticky-wicket of freedom of speech versus censorship. Google says it has complied with close to 65% of 467 court orders and 47% of 561 informal requests to remove content, a trend that has been increasing since it began releasing its Transparency Report in 2010.
Countries with the most requests:
• Brazil – 194
• US – 187
• Germany – 103
• India – 100
• South Korea - 94
Ukraine, Jordan and Bolivia showed up for the first time on the list, and requests from the US more than doubled compared to the previous half year.
Specific instances cited include: YouTube videos with Nazi references in Germany where they are banned; in Thailand, a country with tough “lèse-majesté” laws, videos of the monarch with a seat over his head were deemed insulting; Spanish regulators asked to remove 270 links to blogs and newspaper articles criticizing public figures, including mayors and public prosecutors; and in Canada, officials requested removal of a video with a citizen urinating on his passport and flushing it down the toilet. (Google refused this one.)
In some countries, Google says it had no choice but to take down the content, as national laws prescribe certain types of political speech: “Governments ask companies to remove content for many different reasons. For example, some content removals are requested due to allegations of defamation, while others are due to allegations that the content violates local laws prohibiting hate speech or pornography. Laws surrounding these issues vary by country, and the requests reflect the legal context of a given jurisdiction. We hope this tool will be helpful in discussions about the appropriate scope and authority of government requests.”
"We realize that the numbers we share can only provide a small window into what's happening on the Web at large," Chou added. "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."