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Google coughs up what it coughs up to govs - and what it suppresses

'Governments are scary! Not us! Look!'

Canada asked Google to remove a video of a Canadian flushing his passport down the toilet and the US police wanted a blog that defamed a cop in a "personal capacity" taken down.

Google has published the censorship requests that it received from governments and government agencies worldwide in the six months from July to December 2011.

In most cases, Google does not detail the nature of the requests or the content it removed. But several of the requests where Google does sketch out the detail reveal the odd preoccupations of different governments. Often this includes the sensitive egos of officials:

We received a request from the Government of Pakistan's Ministry of Information Technology to remove six YouTube videos that satirized the Pakistan Army and senior politicians. We did not comply with this request.

Heads of state seemed touchy about their portrayal on YouTube: Thai King Rama IX asked Google to remove 149 YouTube videos that allegedly insulted the monarchy: Google restricted 70 per cent of them from view in Thailand. The Turkish government asked for vids satirising Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish state, to be removed.

But there was a "troubling" trend in the removal requests, said Google's senior policy analyst Dorothy Chou, highlighting the increase in requests for political speech to be removed:

[J]ust like every other time before, we’ve been asked to take down political speech. 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.

In the UK it was videos threatening terrorism that authorities asked Google to remove, Google complied and took down 640 videos and deleted five users.

Requests to Google from the US government and agencies had more than doubled compared to the six months before, Google said. The requests mainly came from courts or law enforcement agencies asking for the removal of content deemed to be harassing or defamatory. One American law enforcement agency asked for 1,400 YouTube videos to be removed for alleged harassment. Google did not comply with the request.

Requests for user data

Google also revealed the number of requests for user information that it had received per country: a total of 18,257 requests that pertained to 28,562 users. Governments asked for info that could include search history, Gmail correspondence, or YouTube viewing history.

The rise in data requests was partly due to increased requests from the police who want the information for criminal investigations, Google explained. The American government and associated agencies made the highest number of requests for user data – 6321 requests about over 12,000 people – and Google complied with 93 per cent of them: the highest rate of compliance for any country.

UK authorities requested user data on 1,764 people: Google complied with 64 per cent - coughing up private info for 1,128 Brits.

After the US, India and Brazil, the UK was the country that made the fourth-most total number of user data requests. ®

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