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Google Notices Disturbing Censorship Trends From Democratic Governments

According to the latest data from Google’s Transparency Report, there has been a surge in the number of removal requests coming from governments and government officials. Even worse, the United States is one of the nations that have made rather large strides in the amount of data removal requests.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different. When we started releasing this data in 2010, we also added annotations with some of the more interesting stories behind the numbers,” Dorothy Chou, Senior Policy Analyst with Google, wrote on the company blog.

“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.”

What’s unsettling is that many of the requests that would usually fall under the category of limiting free speech can be tracked to democratic nations, such as the U.S.

In the latest reporting period, from July to December 2011, the number of content removal requests received by Google from the U.S. increased by 103% compared to the previous period.

In fact, while the latest figures show enormous growth, the previous period was still an upward trend for removal requests in the U.S., because from January to June 2011 there was a 70% increase when compared to the 2010 data.

As an example, a local U.S.-based law enforcement agency requested the removal of a blog post because it allegedly defamed a law enforcement official. Google denied the request.

The U.S. isn’t alone however. In Spain, the Spanish Data Protection Authority requested the removal of 270 search results that linked to blogs focusing on public figures and individuals, each request (filed under defamation) was rejected. In the U.K., the number of requests made by authorities there shot up from 333 during the last reporting period to 847. Of those, Google complied in some capacity 55% of the time.

Sometimes Google has no choice. Such was the case when a court order from Germany resulted in the removal of 898 search results. “[The] results that linked to forums and blogs containing statements about a government agency and one of its employees that the court determined were not credible,” Google explained.

The statistics are an interesting snapshot of the lengths some governments go to in order to control perception and information.

The latest data from Google on the subject is available here

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Steve Ragan is a security reporter and contributor for SecurityWeek. Prior to joining the journalism world in 2005, he spent 15 years as a freelance IT contractor focused on endpoint security and security training.