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UK almost tops international Google-snoop league

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British authorities demand more data on Google users per capita than almost any other major democracy, newly-published figures have revealed.

The dominant search engine received 1,166 requests for private user data from British government organisations - the vast majority very likely from police and the intelligence agencies - in the 6 months to 31 December 2009.

With a population of just over 62 million, that means UK Google searches, emails and other data are more often demanded by authorities than in any other nation of the 20 the firm published figures for on Tuesday, except Brazil.

The South American nation shades it by a tiny margin. However, Brazilians dominate Google's social network, Orkut. If Orkut data requests were removed from the figures the UK would very likely be a clear number one.

Google said it was unable to say what proportion of the requests it complied with or how many users they related to.

If calculated as a proportion of total internet users - the UK has an estimated 42.7 million - then Brazilian authorities top the league, with their British counterparts again just beaten into second. On the same basis the French rank third and the US fifth.

Singapore, whose claim to democracy is weakest among the countries Google published figures for, came fourth both per capita and per internet user.

British authorities ranked fifth per head population for requests for Google to remove material, with 59 in six months, 43 of them YouTube videos. The firm complied with 45.

Germany came first in the censorship stakes per capita, issuing 188 take-down requests, which cybersecurity politics academic Tim Stevens, of King's College, speculates may be a result of its anti-Holocaust-denial laws.

He crunches the numbers and has a full list of rankings here.

Google did not release figures on disclosure and censorship requests from the Chinese government, saying it would break state secret laws. ®

This article originally said UK authorities made most data requests on a per capita basis. This was based on a wrongly-entered figure and has been corrected.

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