Thoughts from a broken mind
by: J. D. Heyes
In what may be the most ironic thing to happen all year, tech giant Google – a serial privacy violator – says the company is experiencing what it describes as an “alarming” increase in the number of censorship requests being received by Western (in particular, the U.S.) governments. Seems the Leviathan – also known to regularly violate privacy rights (see increased use of drones and other surveillance devices) – doesn’t like to be held to account, either.
Besides wanting to censor Internet search results, governments are also looking to tamp down YouTube videos, Google said in a recent “transparency report.”
“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,” Dorothy Chou, a senior policy analyst at Google, wrote in a blog post, as reported by CNN.com.
“For example, in the second half of last year, Spanish regulators asked us to remove 270 search results that linked to blogs and articles in newspapers referencing individuals and public figures, including mayors and public prosecutors,” she wrote. “In Poland, we received a request from a public institution to remove links to a site that criticized it. We didn’t comply with either of these requests.”
A 718 percent increase
A staggering number of requests came from none other than U.S. government agencies. Google reports that, in the final half of 2011, U.S. agencies made requests to have 6,192 content pieces removed from search results, blog posts or archives of online videos, the report noted.
That was a whopping 718 percent increase from the 757 items requested removed by U.S. agencies in the first six months of last year.
In addition, Google said it received 187 requests from law enforcement agencies and courts to remove content between the months of July and December, a 103-percent increase from 92 requests received in the first half of the year, the report said.
Moreover, many of the requests were trivial and aimed more at trying to protect the integrity of the department – not for some noble reason like, say, removing content that is simply untrue (and even that would be make the removal a first amendment free-speech issue).
In one example cited in the report, an American law enforcement agency wanted Google to remove a blog that merely “allegedly defamed a law enforcement official in a personal capacity.”
Google says it denied that request.
In a separate incident, another police agency asked the tech giant to remove 1,400 YouTube videos (a company which Google owns) because of “alleged” harassment. In still another case – this one in Canada – the government’s passport office wanted Google to delete a YouTube video “of a Canadian citizen urinating on his passport and flushing it down the toilet,” the report said.
High compliance rate
Google said it did not comply with either of those requests either, but astonishingly, the company did comply with a large plurality of requests from the U.S. – 42 percent of them – in the last half of 2011.
But even that large percentage is better than in previous years. The company says in the second half of 2010, it complied with an alarming 87 percent of U.S. requests to remove content.
In its report, Google said that “[s]ome 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.”
It appears, however, that many of the requests the company is receiving have nothing to do with legitimate issues.