Should Google Comply With Government Censorship Requests?

The internet company regularly deals with requests from governments around the world to censor content on its sites.

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On Sunday Google posted its latest six-month summary of government removal requests of content from their websites, marking the fifth time the Internet company has released such data. The latest numbers, which summarize requests from July to December 2011, illustrate the complexity Google deals with in complying with government regulations around the world.

The massive company regularly receives requests from governments, via court order or government agencies.

"[S]ome content removals are requested due to allegations of defamation, while others are due to allegations that the content violates local laws prohibiting hate speech or pornography," the report said. "Laws surrounding these issues vary by country, and the requests reflect the legal context of a given jurisdiction."

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The wealth of data available in the report shows the immensity of issues Google must navigate as its products and services become more and more integrated into daily lives of Internet users across the globe. The company has been repeatedly criticized by foreign governments for failing to censor content, or not complying with privacy requirements. Google dealt with outrage in several countries in reaction to its Street View software, which has been the subject of several legal cases.

Google released the raw data organized by country, by product (YouTube, Gmail, etc.), and by both product and reason together. Brazil had the most removal requests total, with 194. The United States government was second, placing 187 requests. Of the requests submitted by court order, Google complied with 69 percent of those from Brazil and 40 of those from the United States. The report explains why Google doesn't comply with 100 percent of the removal requests:

Some requests may not specific enough for us to know what the government wanted us to remove (for example, no URL is listed in the request), and others involve allegations of defamation through informal letters from government agencies rather than a court orders. We generally rely on courts to decide if a statement is defamatory according to local law.

It's easy to see how overwhelmed the company gets by removal requests. Google has long maintained a commitment to open and free use of the Internet and largely resists censoring content. Some governments, like China and Iran, regularly censor Google content within their borders due to the company's refusal to censor such content itself.

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The company is based in the United States, and thus must comply with U.S. laws. As a part of its policy, Google already censors things like child pornography, and complies with copyright infringement requests (a heavy volume of which come from videos uploaded on YouTube). Yet because services such as YouTube and Blogger are popular around the world, the company must decide to what extent it will remove content deemed illegal or offensive to foreign governments.

What do you think? Should Google comply with government censorship requests? Click here to take the poll and comment below.