Google steps up pressure on Government censorship

22 April 2010 by

Google have announced the launch of a new Government Requests tool, which according to the Official Google Blog aims to “give people information about the requests for user data or content removal we receive from government agencies around the world.”

According to the tool, the UK currently ranks number 2 in Europe for information removal requests, behind Germany, and 3rd in the world for data requests, behind the US and Brazil.

It appears that the internet search company, whose unofficial corporate motto is “Don’t be Evil“, is attempting to make up for recent public controversies over censorship in countries where rights to freedom of information and expression are lacking. Google has had a particularly rocky relationship with China, who insisted that certain sites were blocked from Google search. After public pressure and a number of public confrontations, Google have recently moved operations to Hong Kong and shut down the search service completely.

Yesterday’s announcement begins by quoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is similar to the European Convention on Human Rights. It says:

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” … So it’s no surprise that Google, like other technology and telecommunications companies, regularly receives demands from government agencies to remove content from our services. Of course many of these requests are entirely legitimate, such as requests for the removal of child pornography. 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. We believe that greater transparency will lead to less censorship.

Salil Tripathi has written an interesting analysis of the “push for online liberty”. He says:

… government approaches vary. The US has the first amendment, which prevents the government from making any law that restricts freedom of speech; Scandinavian countries also have liberal free speech rules. But then there is a downward slide, with Myanmar, China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and many others, at the other extreme. In between are countries which are outwardly democratic, but which place some restrictions on freedoms – including Brazil and India in the developing world, Germany, France and the United Kingdom itself in rich countries.

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