Google Tool Reveals Government Hunger For Data

Official demands sent to Google for data and for its removal are now on display.
In a move toward greater transparency, Google on Tuesday introduced a new tool that shows the number of requests for data and for data removal that Google has received from governments around the world.

Google's Government Requests tool does not provide detail about the nature of the requests and it is updated only every six months. Nonetheless, it represents an unprecedented degree of disclosure.

The tool reveals that in the last six months of 2009 Google received 3560 requests for data from U.S. authorities and 123 data removal requests, about half of which concerned YouTube content. Of the limited number of governments listed -- China is not among them -- only the government of Brazil made more data requests (3663).

Noting that Google has committed to principles of free expression and privacy enumerated in the Global Network Initiative, David Drummond, the company's chief legal officer, expressed the hope that other companies would pursue similar paths.

"In the spirit of these principles, we hope this tool will shine some light on the scale and scope of government requests for censorship and data around the globe," he said in a blog post. "We also hope that this is just the first step toward increased transparency about these actions across the technology and communications industries."

So far, other technology companies have shown little interest in supporting free expression, through the Global Network Initiative or otherwise.

In a March 2nd hearing on Internet freedom in Washington, D.C., Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), having lauded Google for its decision to stop censoring search results in China, questioned why so few companies in the IT sector were willing to address human rights challenges.

Two months earlier, Durbin sent letters to 30 technology companies asking them to participate in the GNI.

Of the companies that received the letters -- Acer, Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Cisco, Dell, eBay, Facebook, Fortinet, HP, IAC, IBM, Lenovo, Juniper, McAfee, Motorola, News Corp, Nokia, Nokia Siemens, Oracle, RIM, SAP, Siemens, Skype, Sprint Nextel, Toshiba, Twitter, Verizon, Vodafone, and Websense -- only AT&T, McAfee and Skype said they'd discuss joining GNI, while Websense said that it would do so if the fee was waived.

Google's willingness to push back against government demands for data first made headlines in 2006 when the company resisted the Department of Justice's demand for user search data to support the agency's effort to uphold the 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA).

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Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer, Dark Reading
Kelly Jackson Higgins 2, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading