Google’s transparency report reveals disturbing trend to squelch free speech in U.S.


Google revealed a sharp rise in requests from U.S. government officials (police) asking for political content to be removed from the web in its latest transparency report.

“Over the past four years, one worrying trend has remained consistent: governments continue to ask us to remove political content. Judges have asked us to remove information that’s critical of them, police departments want us to take down videos or blogs that shine a light on their conduct, and local institutions like town councils don’t want people to be able to find information about their decision-making processes,” Susan Infantino, legal director, said in a blogpost.  

“These officials often cite defamation, privacy and even copyright laws in attempts to remove political speech from our services. In this particular reporting period, we received 93 requests to take down government criticism and removed content in response to less than one third of them. Four of the requests were submitted as copyright claims,” she said.

In the US Google and its peers are fighting to be allowed to disclose how often they receive legal demands for information from the National Security Agency (NSA). Those requests are made through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) court and the companies are legally barred from disclosing them.

A presidential review panel, looking into the NSA in the wake of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations, suggested tech companies should be allowed to disclose Fisa requests.

“While the information we present in our transparency report is certainly not a comprehensive view of censorship online, it does demonstrate a worrying upward trend in the number of government requests, and underscores the importance of transparency around the processes governing such requests. As we continue to add data, we hope it will become increasingly useful and informative in policy debates and decisions around the world,” said Infantino, the legal director.

From January to June 2013, the following countries made the most requests to remove content:

  • Turkey (1,673 requests for 12,162 items)
  • United States (545 requests for 3,887 items)
  • Brazil (321 requests for 1,635 items)
  • Russia (257 requests for 277 items)
  • India (163 requests for 714 items)

In the US Google received 545 requests for the removal of 3,887 items. Among those requests was one from a local law enforcement official to remove a search result linking to a news article about his record as an officer. Google did not remove the search result.!

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