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Google Government requests tool
Greater transparency will benefit everyone, says company

Google has more than it share of clashes with governments worldwide.  It left China after it uncensored it search results.  And in the U.S., it occasionally clashes with the U.S. government on DMCA takedowns and other issues.

Google knows it can't flatly refuse to engage in any sort of content policing/censorship or it'd be unable to do business in virtually any nation, including the U.S.  Instead, it's trying to make those government request for information or content removal as transparent as possible.

It announced yesterday afternoon a tool that will allow users to browse through lists of recent government requests.  The Government Requests tool is currently being populated with data from between July and December 2009 from governments worldwide.  It will be updated every six months with a new list of requests.

The company writes in its blog:

"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.' Written in 1948, the principle applies aptly to today's Internet -- one of the most important means of free expression in the world. Yet government censorship of the web is growing rapidly: from the outright blocking and filtering of sites, to court orders limiting access to information and legislation forcing companies to self-censor content."

There are some exceptions to the data tracking.  Countries with fewer than ten requests are not shown in the tracker.  And requested takedowns of material that violates Google's corporate policy, such as child pornography, is not reported as Google itself actively engages in taking it down, so it's hard to determine where the takedown originated.

Regardless of your feelings on Google, it's hard not to like this move.  After all, it seems like a fundamental right for citizens to know how their government is acting.



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Specifics
By Earthmonger on 4/21/2010 11:20:57 AM , Rating: 3
I wish Google could be more specific with the data. As it sits, it is purely statistical and I can't relate to the disembodied numbers. Too dry.

Still, it's a start.




RE: Specifics
By bhieb on 4/21/2010 11:27:28 AM , Rating: 2
Yah I was thinking the same thing, I'd like to drill all the way down to the actual court order.

Too bad on China they don't list anything. Guess their "bravery" when dealing with Chinese censorship only goes so far. Not that I blame them as they still have people there.


RE: Specifics
By HotFoot on 4/21/2010 12:17:07 PM , Rating: 2
It would be interesting as to the nature of the requests. For instance, the government of Canada has put in a number of requests with Google to comply with personal privacy laws - ie. Canada requires by law better protection of personal information than Google has historically provided.

Couple of examples: Street view - Google didn't have the legal ability to take pictures of people and publish them without either written consent from the individuals or a press license. And Buzz - Google exposing, even for a short time, people's most-contacted addresses to their other most-contacted addresses.

In both those cases, Google corrected the problem and found a way to conduct their business in accordance with the law. The problem is with privacy matters, there has to be a process of compliance with the law before a product is rolled out rather than being patched up later.


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