'Political' takedown requests increase in US

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Google's released data on the governments aiming to censor internet content, and says it's seen a worrying rise in the number of such requests from Western democracies.

In the second half of last year, for example, Spanish regulators asked for the removal of 270 search results that linked to blogs and newspaper articles referencing individuals and public figures, including mayors and public prosecutors.

One example that's more entertaining than chilling came from the Canadian authorities. They called for the removal of a YouTube video showing a man urinating on his passport and flushing it down the toilet. Google let the video stand.

"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," says senior policy analyst Dorothy Chou.

"This is the fifth data set that we’ve released. And just like every other time before, we’ve been asked to take down political speech. 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."

Google also received a number of requests from US law enforcement agencies. One concerned a blog post alleged to defame a law enforcement official in a personal capacity; another a series of 1,400 YouTube videos that were claimed to constitute harassment.

Earlier in the year, a law enforcement agency asked for the removal of YouTube videos showing alleged piolice brutality.

In all these cases, Google refused to comply.

The US asked for the greatest number of takedowns, followed by India. All in all, there were more than twice as many content removal requests from the US as in the previous reporting period - 6,321, of which 93 percent were complied with in full or in part.

The report is here.