April 20, 2010 | By Kurt Opsahl

Google Shows Government Information and Takedown Requests

Today, Google launched a fascinating new feature listing requests from government agencies for removal of content on Google and YouTube and for corresponding user information. Set up as a map, the Government Requests tool shows various countries around the world and lists the number of requests from that country between July and December of last year. You can learn, for example, that Brazil is the most prolific sender of content takedown requests to Google, or that Google did not comply with any requests from Pakistan.

The information is far from complete, notably missing China, which considers any such requests a state secret. The United States also restricts disclosure of some user information requests, such as National Security Letters. Nevertheless, Google's Government Requests tool is a tremendously important first step towards informing the public about the extent to which governments around the world seek information about them and we commend Google for creating it. Historically, much of this information was tightly held by governments and service providers, and the public had little ability to review government encroachment into their private spaces. As we push for strengthening the federal privacy law regulating government access to Internet communications and records as part of the Digital Due Process coalition, this information will be an important part of the ongoing debate.

Moving forward, we'd love to see more detail. It would be useful to know whether the takedown was due to allegations of (for example) indecency, hate speech, lese majesty, other something else. Was the user information request seeking to identify a anonymous speaker or to gather further information about a known person? More detail for large countries like the United States would also be welcome, breaking down the countrywide number into each state or province. To have a complete picture, we'd also like to see statistics for how often Google disclosed data in response, broken down by jurisdiction.

As we move further into an era of cloud computing in which people entrust an ever-increasing amount of their personal, even intimate, information to corporations, other internet companies should offer improved transparency to help protect against government prying. Google's new Government Requests tool is a welcome start, an example we hope many more companies promptly follow. Indeed, the best solution for transparency and openness might be a universal tool, including all the major service providers.


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