Google Transparency Report: Government Censorship Up 25% in 2012


The latest Google Transparency Report was released on Thursday. The report is a disclosure of user data requests, removal requests, and real-time and historic traffic information requests by governments, courts, agencies, and copyright owners globally. The report indicates that government removal requests increased 25% between the first and second half of 2012 (from 1,811 to 2,285 requests, encompassing 24,179 total pieces of content requests for the second half of 2012).

Between 2010 and 2012, a top reason cited for content removal by governments was defamation of political figures and public officials, often for criticizing their policies or linking them to corruption. In France, a regional leader requested the removal of a blog because it criticized aspects of his career:

“We received a request from the leader of a regional government entity to remove a blog post that criticized aspects of his judicial career. We did not remove content in response to this request," the Google report read.


In Brazil, two judges requested the removal of content that linked them to corruption:

“We received a request from one judge to remove a blog that allegedly defamed him by referencing or linking to accusations of corruption, and a similar request from a different judge to remove a search result. We did not remove content in response to this request," the report read.

The United States government requested content removal for “allegedly defaming police officers, government officials, and public prosecutors” as well, according to the report. With the proposal of SOPA and PIPA last year, and now CISPA and the Internet Sales Tax, many fear these statistics indicate a global rise in the scope of government that attempts to increasingly censor and control the internet, writes Google Legal Director Susan Infantino, on her blog. The number of cases where national security letters received to retrieve user data or accounts using a subpoena, search warrant, or other forms of legal authorization obtained from the ECPA has also declined by 10% since 2009 (6% in the United States).

Some governments have responded to criticism by disrupting entire Google services for the posting of defamatory or critical content. Since 2009, China has disrupted Google websites, Google’s Picasa web album service, and YouTube. In response to anti-Islamic videos, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh disrupted YouTube services in September 2012. The most common reason cited among disrupted regions was the defamation of Muslim innocence:

“We received inquiries from 20 countries regarding YouTube videos that contain clips of the movie, ‘Innocence of Muslims’: Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Brunei, Djibouti, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Maldives, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and the United States. Australia, Egypt, and the United States requested that we review the videos to determine if they violated our Community Guidelines, which they did not. The other 17 countries requested that we remove the videos. We restricted videos from view in Indonesia, India, Jordan, Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Turkey. Due to difficult circumstances, we temporarily restricted videos from view in Egypt and Libya,” the report read.