Western governments, including the United States, appear to be stepping up efforts to censor Internet search results and YouTube videos, according to a “transparency report” released by Google.
“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 on Sunday night.
“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. 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.”
In the last half of 2011, U.S. agencies asked Google to remove 6,192 individual pieces of content from its search results, blog posts or archives of online videos, according to the report. That’s up 718% compared with the 757 such items that U.S. agencies asked Google to remove in the six months prior.
Overall, Google received 187 requests from United States law enforcement agencies and courts to remove content from its Web properties from July to December, up 103% from the 92 requests the Mountain View, California, company received in the previous reporting period.
In one incident cited in the report, a U.S. law enforcement agency asked Google to take down a blog that “allegedly defamed a law enforcement official in a personal capacity.” The company did not comply with that request.
In another, a separate law enforcement group asked Google to take down 1,400 YouTube videos (Google owns YouTube) because of “alleged harassment.”
And in Canada, the passport office asked Google to delete a YouTube video “of a Canadian citizen urinating on his passport and flushing it down the toilet,” according to the report.
The tech company did not oblige either of those requests but did comply at least in part with 42% of the removal requests from the United States in the last half of 2011, the report says. That number is down considerably compared to previous reports; In the latter half of 2010, for example, Google said it complied with 87% of U.S. requests to remove content.