6-19-2012By Marshall Thompson
Business and Human Rights
Yesterday Google released its latest transparency report detailing government removal and user data requests. Some are noting the increase in attempts to censor. In the United States, for example, government removal requests increased by over 103 percent in the last reporting period. But the raw numbers fail to tell the complete story.
A removal request is when a government or copyright holder requests that Google take down content from its search engine or from its various online services. In some circumstances low numbers can be just as disturbing as high ones. In the latest report, there is not a single documented removal request from any government entity in China. In the last reporting period, from January to June 2011, Google reported that China had only made three removal requests. Google intentionally withheld the details of the one of the removal requests because it “believe[d] that the Chinese government has prohibited [it] from full disclosure.”
In Thailand, there were only four removal requests, but Google complied partially or completely with all four. The result was that Google restricted access in Thailand to over 100 YouTube videos that seemed to insult the Thai monarchy.
While the sheer number of requests can be misleading, it is clear that governments around the world are actively attempting to force Google to remove content that they feel is unacceptable. In the U.S., Google complied with 42 percent of the official removal requests. One local law enforcement agency wanted Google to remove about 1,400 YouTube videos. As the report states, “We did not comply with this request.”
As a member of the Global Network Initiative, Human Rights First is working with Internet companies like Google to create standards for dealing with government removal requests. By engaging with businesses and supporting them in properly resisting inappropriate removal requests, we hope to help maintain a free and open Internet and encourage business practices that respect the fundamental rights of expression and privacy online.