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Summary:

Google has released its sixth semi-annual report on government information and takedown requests. The trend is not encouraging but there may be a bright spot in that more and more companies are following Google’s attempt to shine light on censorship.

Big Brother is watching you
photo: Flickr / Thomas Leuthard

Google has issued new findings on government requests for information, and once again, the results are not cheerful. The search giant says that requests to remove content have “spiked” and that “one trend has become clear: Government surveillance is on the rise.”

The news comes by way of a company blog post announcing Google’s sixth “Transparency Report,” an ongoing look at how governments around the world ask for information about Google subscribers or ask the company to remove content. And, once again, the report provides colorful details about requests from different countries — including, this time, fake court orders submitted in the U.S. and Canada.

Turning to the requests themselves, Google reports that in the first half of 2012, governments made 20,938 requests for information about 34,614 accounts — which include Google products like Gmail, YouTube and Blogger. This is approximately a 15 percent increase from the last six months of 2011. In the longer term, here’s what the trend looks like:

The countries with the greatest increase in government requests for information included South Korea (257 to 423: 65%), Poland (241 to 351: 46%) and the United States (6,321 to 7,969: 26%). Turkey and Western European countries saw large increases in government requests to remove content. In these cases, the requests related to images of criminal content but also included government officials abusing privacy or defamation to remove embarrassing blogs or videos.

Governments’ growing interest in Google users can be explained in part by the fact that more people are online, but the numbers suggest the pace of surveillance is growing faster than the rate of connectivity. Also take note that while many of these requests relate to legitimate court orders or police investigations, others are illegitimate and Google does not comply with all the requests. In the last report, for instance, the company refused to give the government of Canada the identity of a YouTube subscriber who peed on his passport and flushed it down the toilet.

This time, Google said it refused to honor some requests on the ground they were based on faked court orders. One of these came from a U.S. woman invoking copyright to target blog posts and three were supposed defamation court cases from India.

Overall, the report tells a familiar and somewhat depressing tale of governments’ efforts to burrow deeper into our online lives. But there is also positive news in the fact that more companies are following Google’s lead and shining a spotlight on these activities. As Google notes, companies like Dropbox, LinkedIn, Sonic.net and Twitter have begun to share their statistics too.

These acts of transparency among tech companies will ideally create a virtuous cycle where other companies feel obliged to begin providing censorship data too (Facebook? Hello, Facebook, are you out there?).

Another positive development in the new report is bar graphs that make it easier to see takedowns over time:

  1. Google should refuse all requests by government and law enforcement for data, governments and law enforcement are entirely criminally corrupt, this is an ABSOLUTE FACT, and until accountability and the criminal activity within law enforcement and government are vanquished completely, they shall have nothing but contempt by the People and those commercial entities that serve the populace. TRUST AND FAIR AND HONEST PLAY DOES NOT EXIST ANYWHERE. This is unfortunately the reality in this world and does not bode well for the further existence of humanity on this planet we call Earth. Human existence will be terminated very soon, and justly so for the rest inhabiting this universe , who abide by Universal doctrine and ethics. Humanity , human species never did get it, too bad, but fuck them anyway. Human souls will evaporate, no more after life, no heaven ,no hell , no more returning as other life forms or reincarnation , humanities end will be total and complete, no exceptions, no epitaph! Not even a good bye.

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    1. Mr. Kelley,
      Your personal belief in a Higher Power and Eternal principles of Justice,fairness, Trust, and honest play and “getting it” are so laughingly obvious even as you so authoritatively declare them irrelevant (since there is no hereafter.) If these eternal things never existed do you honestly think you could even conceptualize them? What can be said for certain is that you definitely do not WANT them to exist and you hate the thought of them. It leads the honest soul to ask itself “why do I hate the thought of such things (God, heaven, hell, etc…) and the people who believe them?” Seriously look into it. If you are honest and actually turn your question to the Creator He will tell you. Now don’t be a chicken. I dare you to ask God!

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  2. This comes on the heels of a report from lawmakers that sheds some transparency on how companies are also mining personal data (http://markey.house.gov/press-release/lawmakers-release-information-about-how-data-brokers-handle-consumers%E2%80%99-personal). All of this together is why I think we need a new national digital and data literacy campaign, akin to the “Truth” anti-tobacco campaign: http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2012/11/we-need-a-truth-campaign-for-digital-literacy-and-data-tracking318.html

    If information is the lifeblood of democracy, we have to ensure that citizens understand how to foster more healthy media habits. And if data is the new oil, citizens need the knowledge, tools and agency to control how their lives are being mined.

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  3. An outstanding an a frightening report. I cannot understand the apathy of the masses regarding this very critical trend. It shouldn’t have been allowed to have begun in the first place. And now, much to my horror, it appears that people just don’t give a damn. They apparently cannot see the grave consequences of such intrusive police-state measures’ rising trends.

    My thanks to the author.

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