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Google reports "alarming" rise in government censorship requests

Internet giant Google says it has seen an "alarming" number of government requests to censor Internet content in the past six months.

Google says it received more than 1,000 requests from governments around the world to remove items like YouTube videos and search results.

Dorothy Chou, Google's senior policy analyst, said in a blog post, "When we started releasing this data in 2010… we noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it's not."

The company, which said it complied with an average of 65 percent of court orders, and 47 percent of less formal requests, published a register of those requests as part of its Global Transparency Report, its fifth in two years.

The U.S. was one of the world's leaders where take down requests were made - 187 in the period from July to December 2011, up about 100 percent from the preceding six months. Google says it complied with 40 percent of the American requests.

"Just like every other time, we've been asked to take down political speech," Chou wrote. "It's alarming not only because free expression is at risk, but because some of these requests come from countries you might not suspect - western democracies not typically associated with censorship."

Chou cites a Polish demand for removal of an article critical of a development agency, and a Spanish request for removal of 270 blogs and links to articles critical of the public figures. "We didn't comply with either of these requests," Chou wrote.

Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said that this new data shows the increasing pressure from governments on Internet liberty.

"This is particularly insidious because, in doing so, that content is not merely hidden behind a firewall but instead disappears entirely," she told technology publication "Ars Technica".

"Google's transparency is a good thing and other companies should follow in its footsteps, but transparency isn't always enough. Companies need to regularly evaluate their presence in certain countries and ensure that they're not complicit in human rights violations."

Among the other take-down requests were four from Thailand's Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology to remove 149 YouTube videos for allegedly insulting the monarchy in violation of the country's lèse-majesté law. Google restricted 70 per cent of these videos from view in Thailand, in accordance with local law.

According to CNET, the study doesn't reflect censorship activity from countries such as China and Iran, which block content without notifying Google.

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