Cybercensorship: GOI's take down requests increase

IN Censorship | 02/07/2011
Defamation and national security are top of the list of reasons for government requests to take down content on the search engine,
says Google’s Transparency report for June-December, 2010. A FREE SPEECH HUB report.
The latest figures on take down requests to Google for content and user data from different governments, including India, reveal a lot of what we already know: that the requests are going up. What we still do not know is the exact nature of the content that is either a threat to national security or defamatory, pornography, hate speech or even the ‘other’ categories that the requests come under.
Still, some data is better than none. And Google’s latest Transparency Report does give cyber freedom activists more ammunition in their struggle to retain the independence of the internet. Google but up this very useful tool in 2009, after the international search engine decided to go public – or as public as it possibly can – with the number of requests governments across the world continually send it to take down content or to part with private data of users.
According to Google, the number of content removal requests it received from India increased by 123% compared to the previous reporting period. The search engine added:
We received requests from different law enforcement agencies to remove a blog and YouTube videos that were critical of Chief Ministers and senior officials of different states. We did not comply with these requests.
While it is reassuring that Google has resisted complying with requests to remove content, the figures on user data requests are not as reassuring. In the July-December 2010 period, Google received 282 requests to remove content and has complied with a full or partial removal of only 22 per cent of the requests. In contrast, it received 1699 requests for user data – from law enforcement agencies for information at Google or Youtube. Google complied – partially or fully – with 79 per cent of the requests.
Here’s the data on content removal requests from all of Google’s products: web searches got 50 requests while Google Images and Google Profiles got one and two respectively, while content on Youtube got 199 requests and Blogger got 30.
The single request pertained to a Google Images category citing an executive/police action under defamation and the two requests under Google Profiles pertained to content that was ostensibly pornography. Two court orders – in the web search and blogger products – were for content that was deemed to be defamation, pornography whereas one content removal request in Blogger in the category of privacy and security followed a court order.
The search engine company does state that it reviews ‘each request to make sure that it complies with both the spirit and the letter of the law, and we may refuse to produce information or try to narrow the request in some cases’.
Between July-December 2009, when Google put up its first Transparency report, there were 142 content removal requests in India and the search engine complied with about 77 per cent of them, fully or partially. In the second half-yearly report (January-June 2010), there were 30 requests for removal of 125 items, a majority for Youtube. Google complied with 53 per cent.
Interestingly, Google received the most number of requests for user information from the United States (4,601). Brazil tops the list of requests for content removal with 263 requests and around 12,000 items were removed. Google’s response to the take down requests may vary depending on each country’s specific legal system, points out the magazine Ars Technica:
The section on takedown requests provides an interesting window into the different types of censorship that occur around the world. For example, Google complied with a request from the Thai government to block access to 43 items “mocking or criticizing the king,” which is illegal in that country. It removed an Italian video that depicted the assassination of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, but refused to remove videos criticizing politicians in India.
Google is one of the few companies that upholds transparency. But censorship on the internet is clearly on the rise and governments everywhere are trying to increase surveillance, monitor and block electronic communication, armed with draconian provisions in laws like India’s Information Technology Act 2000.
More transparency on all fronts from governments with its own citizens is called for. Till then, more vigilance on protecting cyber freedom is the need of the hour.
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