Google Reports Increase in Government Censorship

Search giant Google regularly has to deal with requests or demands from government agencies that it delete items from its search engine.

In its most recent semiannual “transparency report,” Google has noted a sudden increase in the number of requests for censorship in the U.S. in recent months.

The report covers July to December 2011, and the requests may come from local or federal agencies.

During that period, Google reports, it received requests for 6,192 items to be removed from searches, blogs, YouTube and other web pages. In the previous six months, January to June 2011, it reported requests for 757 items to be removed. That’s about a 718 percent increase.

Prior to that, in July to December 2010, it received requests for 1,421 items to be removed, however, the report notes that 1,110 of those were related to a single court case in which a man and his family were being defamed. In the period before that, 678 items were requested removed.

Google does not always comply with government requests, even in the case of court orders. For example, during the most recent reporting period, Google notes that it received a request from local law enforcement to remove 1,400 YouTube videos but it did not comply. It also reported a court order to remove 218 search results linking to defamatory websites but only removed 25 percent of the results.

YouTube generated the most requests for removal, but court orders regarding web searches showed the biggest increase, from 24 between January and June 2011 to 92 from July to December 2011. Most of those orders were regarding defamation or privacy/security, according to the report.

There has also been a steady increase in the number of requests for user information, from 4,287 in the first six months of 2010 and 4,601 in the second half of the year, to 5,950 in the first half of 2011 and 6,321 in the second half.

Google of course is only one player, albeit a major one, on the Internet. Its report shows a steady increase in government intervention in online content, which implies an increase in monitoring of Americans’ Internet activities.

This is a trend that is only going to grow, especially as projects like the NSA’s intelligence-gathering center in Utah come online.

It puts me in mind of the introduction to the old TV show “The Prisoner”: Big Brother is after your information, and he’ll get it by hook or by crook.