Google alarmed by rising world governments’ censorship requests

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Search engine giant Google revealed in its twice yearly Transparency report it received more than 1,000 requests from authorities to take down content from its search results and YouTube during the last six months of 2011.

Terming it as an alarming situation, search engine said the requests were aimed at having some 12,000 items overall removed, about a quarter more than during the first half of last year.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the past couple of years has been troubling, and today is no different. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it’s not,” Dorothy Chou, senior policy analyst, said in a blogpost.

While releasing the report it found that, many requests targeted 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,” Chou said.

Google also revealed that, it has compiled around 67% of court orders and 47% of informal requests to remove contents.

According to its data, company was being asked to remove 130 items, which included 77 videos from YouTube, labelled as defamatory. In addition to that, 24 videos were considered as hate speech.

Censorship request

Compared to countries like Brazil, US, UK, Germany and Spain, government bodies excluding courts, India topped the list with 96 request of censorship.

In India, National Security and Piracy, is considered as the primary authority for control over the web. According to Indian government officials, Google was asked to remove only two contents because of a copyright issue and 10 videos considering threat to national security.

Similarly, Spanish regulators asked the search engine giant to remove 270 blog links and newspaper articles.

In March, Spain’s highest court asked the European Court of Justice to examine whether requests by citizens to have content removed were lawful.

In Germany, the company removed videos from YouTube having Nazi references because they are banned under the country’s constitution.

Google was asked by Canada to remove a video where a citizen is urinating on his passport and flushing it down the toilet. However, the company refused to oblige.

Thailand, which has the toughest censorship laws, requested the removal of a video featuring the monarch with a seat over his head. Chou said Google complied with the objection.

Google says it has got no choice but to submit to these requests because certain types of political speech are against law and deemed derogatory.

Clear Guidelines ahead

In January, European Union’s Executive Commission announced it would come out with clear guidelines on handling such requests, outlining under which circumstances it would be legal to have content removed from the Web and when it would curb free speech and fundamental rights.

The commission has also launched public consultation naming it as “a clean and open internet” and has asked the search engine to provide details about requests they get to bring down content, and from whom and for what reason.

As per the EU commission, guidelines state that material should be brought down which cites racism, child abuse and spam. Rules are expected to be announced before the end of the year.

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