Google: Government censorship online is "on the rise"

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A report from Google has hinted 'Big Brother' is peering over public shoulders more than ever before - with Government surveillance of their citizens' online habits at an all-time high.

In only the first six months of this year, authorities across the globe had made almost 21,000 requests for access to personal data from Google users. This ranged from search results and access to Gmail accounts to the removal of YouTube videos.

By comparison, when Google first published its Transparency Report, covering the last six months of 2009, that figure stood at 12,539.

Google has long said it wants a 'free and open' Internet: releasing Government censorship requests is a canny piece of online PR by the search giant, which relies on the availability of information online to return relevant, informative search results for users.

Authorities took action to remove a total of 17,746 pieces of content in the first half of 2012, by making 1,791 requests to Google for them to take action. This figure stands at almost twice the 949 requests made in the same period last year.

Writing in a Google blogpost, senior policy analyst at Google, Dorothy Chou, said the firm believed it was important to "shine a light" on how government actions could affect their users.

She said: "When we first launched the Transparency Report in early 2010, there wasn't much data out there about how governments sometimes hamper the free flow of information on the web. So we took our first step toward greater transparency by disclosing the number of government requests we received.

"This is the sixth time we've released this data, and one trend has become clear: government surveillance is on the rise."

Turkey saw the highest rise, with a staggering 1,013%  jump in requests from the Turkish authorities since the previous report.

However it was the US which accounted for the most requests, an ongoing trend since Google launched the first report.

Overall US authorities asked for details on Google users 7,969 times: almost a third of the total global requests of 20,938.

In Europe, the two countries that have pushed harder than most for increased privacy online, France and Germany, made the most requests, closely followed by Italy, Spain and the UK.

The UK made 97 requests to Google between January and June 2012, the fifth highest figure globally.

One of the requests that Google refused was from a UK police authority, who asked the firm to remove links to sites accusing police of obscuring crime and racism.

Typically. Governments listed reasons including defamation, privacy and security as their main concern when requesting content to be removed.

In the blogpost, Google concluded: "The information we disclose is only an isolated sliver, showing how governments interact with the Internet, since for the most part we don't know what requests are made of other technology or telecommunications companies."

The firm was heartened to see other companies like Dropbox, LinkedIn, and Twitter sharing their statistics, and hope over time, that "more data will bolster public debate about how we can best keep the Internet free and open."

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