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Internet content: US springs a ‘censorship’ surprise

19 June 2012

Ashok Kumar/OneWorld South Asia

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When it comes to getting ‘offensive’ content offloaded from the internet, Western democracies are not far behind with the UK, the US, Germany and Spain taking the lead in seeking removal of such information. The latest Google report says that the maximum number of items were sought to be removed by the US and its courts.

The angst over India resorting to censorship has masked another very interesting fact – that it is the USA that has asked Google to remove the maximum number of items from its services, more than any other country in the world. Through 187 requests, the American government and also its courts, have asked Google to remove 6,192 items during the 6-month period between July and December 2011 as compared to India’s 101 requests to remove 255 items.

For all those, who have been earnestly lapping up stories about the tussle between Google and China’s policies of control and censorship, Google’s figures reveal, in Dorothy Chou, Senior Policy Analyst at Google’s, words: “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.”

The Google report says that even though the number of content removal requests by India has increased by almost half, the number of items to be removed has actually come down. This actually can be interpreted as ‘censorship’ coming down.
In its 68 content removal requests in January-June 2011, the Indian Government wanted Google to pull down 360 pieces of content. But in the July to December 2011 period, the government sent Google 101 requests but asked it to remove just 255 content items.
Of all the requests made by India in July-December 2011, the internet giant complied with 80 per cent of the court orders (5) but just 26 per cent of the requests (96) by the Indian government.

In the case of the US, one of the biggest proponents of democracy and free speech, requests to Google have almost doubled compared to the previous period. The number of such requests (court orders and other requests) were 92 between January and June 2011, but spurted by 103 per cent to 187, in the July to December 2011 period.
Not only this, the number of items the United States wants removed has shot up by 8 times. From its earlier request to remove 757 items, the US has in the latest period sought the removal of 6,192.

In its 187 requests, the US (court orders and other requests) sought the removal of 6,192 items while India, in a stark contrast, requested Google 101 times (court orders and other requests) to remove just 255 items in the July to December 2011 period.

Highlighting the pressure from the government agencies to get the content deleted, Chou, in her official Google blog says that governments across the world are trying to stifle free speech.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different. When we started releasing this data in 2010, we also added annotations with some of the more interesting stories behind the numbers. We noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it’s not,” Dorothy opines.

Google has created a minor flutter across the world by releasing its transparency report, in which it makes public the requests from government agencies and courts to remove content from its services.

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