Gag orders

Google’s transparency report reveals internet censorship is on the rise,and India leads the way

Written by The Indian Express | Published:June 20, 2012 3:19 am

Google’s transparency report reveals internet censorship is on the rise,and India leads the way

Google’s just-released biannual transparency report paints a worrying picture of free speech and privacy on the internet. The report,which discloses the number of government requests made for content removal and user data across Google’s various services,including search,YouTube and Blogger,highlighted a trend towards internet censorship not just by the usual suspects,but also by liberal democracies.

Between July and December 2011,Google received more than 1,000 removal requests and some 18,000 user data requests from governments. The US led the way with more than 6,000 user data requests,with Britain,Germany and France all making more than 1,000 such requests. Google makes a distinction between formal removal requests ordered by a court and those made by other parts of government — it complies with only a fraction of them. While India was second on the list demanding user data,it made the most removal requests not mandated by a court order,registering a 49 per cent increase in their number. This surge in the number of requests has partly to do with Google’s own expanding girth,as it rolls out more services and extends its user base around the world.

Google’s transparency reports are also an interesting map of intolerance. Defamation,national security,hate speech and pornography are what Indian authorities go after,compared to a focus on privacy or copyright infringement in the West. While it is important to note that countries with government-controlled filters to block content are not part of the report,and several requests are made with good reason,the overall rise in such requests does point to governments becoming increasingly intolerant of internet content. Not that we need Google to inform us of India’s own confused and illiberal internet legislation. IT minister Kapil Sibal has told us that the Centre has “no option” but to “evolve guidelines” to keep supposedly objectionable content off the Web. In the IT Act,rules drafted under Section 43A allow any citizen to play censor,and companies are legally obliged to remove “disparaging” or “blasphemous” content within 36 hours if they receive a complaint by an “affected person”. Google’s map underlines that the struggle for a free internet,with only minimal intervention by governments,is getting more heated.

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