Google worried about rising government requests to remove political content

Search engine giant Google has raised concerns about the consistent demands by governments and law enforcement agencies across the world to remove content that is critical of them.

The US-based firm, which offers services like search, email, ads and mapping, said in its latest transparency report, that over the last four years, “one worrying trend has remained consistent: governments continue to ask us to remove political content”.

The company also regularly receives requests from governments and courts around the world to hand over user data.

In a blog post, Google Legal Director Susan Infantino said, “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.”

These officials often cite defamation, privacy and even copyright laws in attempts to remove political speech from Google’s services.

Between January and June this year, Google said it received 3,846 government requests to remove 24,737 pieces of content, an increase of 68 percent over the second half

of 2012.

Google said it has received 93 requests to take down government criticism and removed content in response to less than one third of them during the first half of 2013. Four of the requests were submitted as copyright claims.

In the past, Google had said the number of such requests are on the rise with growing usage of its services every year.

“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,” she said in the official blog post.

Tech firms, including Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo!, have been seeking to release more information on government data requests, in the belief that this would reassure their customers.

These companies have also expressed “serious” concerns about monitoring of content by government agencies, and have also beefed up encryption (security) of user data to protect privacy of their consumers.