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Unsettling Increase in US Government Censorship Requests Reported By Google

According to the latest ‘transparency report’ by Google, the company has stated that it has been witnessing an increasing number of censorship requests from the United States Government. It is unsettling because freedom of expression is something that is associated with democracy and an increase in censorship requests means that the government is curbing that fundamental right.

The Trend is Uncommon in Western Democracies

According to Dorothy Chou, one of the senior policy analysts working for Google, this trend is not something which you would expect from western democratic countries. In her blog, she stated that an increasing number of requests are coming from nations which you might least expect to do so. She also added that this policy, adopted by democratic nations, limited the right of free expression.

Not All Requests Were Obliged

In the same blog, Chou mentioned that some of the requests were not obliged. Those included some requests from Spanish regulators about some search results that redirected the user to articles and blogs about some public figures that included lawyers and politicians. Apparently, around 270 results were requested to be censored. Similarly, a single request from a Polish public institute for removal of a link that criticized the institute was rejected.

The Statistics Speak for Themselves

The ‘Transparency Report’ highlighted some numbers which caused the alarm bells to go off within Google’s offices. US agencies alone filed requests for removal of 6,192 pieces from its search results, video archives and blogs in the last 6 months of 2012. That is a mind blowing 718% increase in the number of requests compared to the 757 online pieces which were requested to be censored in the first 6 months of 2011.

The requests coming from law enforcement departments of the United States alone shot up by 103% to 187 requests in the last 6 months of 2011. The first 6 months only saw 92 requests coming in.

Some of the Reasons for Censoring Content

Some of the content which was requested to be censored seemed illogical, personal and, unworthy of attention. It was better to ignore such requests rather than comply with them. One such request was the removal of a blog which slandered an official from the law enforcement department in a personal capacity. Another requested deletion of almost 1400 videos on YouTube, alleging harassment. The Canadian government requested the removal of a video on YouTube, which showed a citizen of Canada urinating on his passport and flushing it down the drain.

Google is More Compliant when Requested for User Information

You might be aware of the fact that Google collects user information even when you are using Google’s services thorough mobile devices. Along with this, they probably have the world’s largest database of users with their ultra-popular Gmail and the unheralded Google+ services.

Google receives requests for user information quite regularly. The company also seems to be more compliant, considering the requests are based on information for criminal investigations. So, Google is legally, ethically and morally bound to share that information. So, even when you think that you are covering your tracks when you stop cookies/tracking online, you may still be traced with your info.

According to the report, Google received 6,321 requests from US government and complied to almost 93% of them, fully or at least partially. But when it came to other countries, Google seemed to be a little reluctant. For example, only 24% of Canadian requests, 44% French and 64% English requests were obliged.

Will The Trend Continue?

This report has raised serious questions about the policies adopted by the governments and the measures taken by them. If this continues, there might be some serious consequences that the governments will have to face, considering they are running democratic nations.

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