Google reveals UK government’s censorship and user data requests

The UK government asked Google 59 times between July and December last year for information about Google users or to censor search results delivered by the...

The UK government asked Google 59 times between July and December last year for information about Google users or to censor search results delivered by the company's search engine.

This emerged yesterday when Google launched a web page that detailed government requests for it to censor its search results or for information on Google users.

The move came a month after US secretary of state Hillary Clinton warned that the internet faces increasing government censorship. The Washington Post reported that 40 countries now censor the web, up from four in 2002.

It also comes weeks after Google launched an anti-censorship drive, the Global Network Initiative.

In a post on the firm's official blog, Google's chief legal officer David Drummond said government censorship of the web was growing rapidly. The measures ranged from the outright blocking and filtering of sites, to court orders limiting access to information and legislation forcing companies to self-censor content, he said.

He said Google and other technology and telecommunications companies regularly received demands from government agencies to remove content from their services.

"Of course, many of these requests are entirely legitimate, such as requests for the removal of child pornography," he said.

"We also regularly receive requests from law enforcement agencies to hand over private user data. Again, the vast majority of these requests are valid and the information needed is for legitimate criminal investigations. However, data about these activities historically has not been broadly available."

It's not only governments that threaten free speech. In February Microsoft asked Cryptome, a whistleblower website, to take down a Microsoft manual that detailed the information available to law enforcement authorities from its software.

Faced with a public outcry, Microsoft withdrew the request, made under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and the file was restored.

Google showed that Brazil and Germany are the most active governments. But it did not report on China, with which it currently disputing censorship practices and hack attacks aimed at Gmail users.

Drummond said Google planned to update the data every six months. "We are also sharing the number of these content removal requests that we do not comply with, and while we cannot yet provide more detail about our compliance with user data requests in a useful way, we intend to do so in the future," he said.

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