Google’s fifth “Transparency Report” shows that the emperors of the world wear no clothes. The search and information giant started releasing the data two years ago, offering a small peek into the bombardment of user information requests that world governments make — everything from non-copyrighted YouTube video take-downs, to search result link removals, to, most alarmingly, private citizen emails and information.
But what is most alarming about these requests? Many are not even for serious matters of national security. Most are down right requests to silence, censor, track, and or monitor dissident internal political groups and political opponents. In some, it is the outright censorship of non-violent organizations, ideas, or even the requested silence of whistle-blowers pointing out corruption. Google’s own policy analyst, Dorothy Chou, sees a disturbing trending rise, particularly from “Western democracies not typically associated with censorship”.
Google, Take Down This Post
Google states at the top of its ‘Content Removal’ by country government chart just some of the basic reasons for the content take downs by governments:
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
An example of local country law violations that lead to reasonable requests for removal is that of Germany, ranked second in the list. German courts had 60 requests for 1304 items, while the German government had 43 requests for 418 items. Google’s self-reported compliance with the requests was at 80 percent for the court orders and 72 percent for the direct government requests….
But as a US citizen I find it most shocking that the United States collective State & Federal governments ranked No.1 in the top 10 for ‘Content Removal’ requests by both court order and by government agency request. Under court orders the US Government requested 117 times to remove 3851 items and under Government agency requests; ranging from Executive branch down to local police, there were 70 requests for 2341 items. In the court-ordered take-down requests, Google’s self-reported compliance level was 40 percent. In the government agency requests that was slightly higher at 44 percent removal compliance. But the real question is what kind of data is the US requesting to take down?
Google’s own summery states:
We received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove a blog because of a post that allegedly defamed a law enforcement official in a personal capacity. We did not comply with this request, which we have categorized in this report as a defamation request.
We received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove 1,400 YouTube videos for alleged harassment. We did not comply with this request. Separately, we received a request from a different local law enforcement agency to remove five user accounts that allegedly contained threatening and/or harassing content. We terminated four of the accounts, which resulted in the removal of approximately 300 videos, but did not remove the remaining account with 54 videos.
We received a court order to remove 218 search results that linked to allegedly defamatory websites. We removed 25 percent of the results cited in the request.