Google reveals governments requesting user data

21 Apr 2010

Brazil tops the world as the government requesting the most data on users with 3,663 requests, followed by the US with 3,580 and the UK, where authorities have made 1,166 requests, according to a new tool revealed by search giant Google.

The figures, which would send a tremor down the spine of most digital rights activists, reveal which countries are most active in requesting data on users.

The new tool from Google also reveals which countries have sought information to be removed from the Google search engine.

Brazil once again tops the list with 291 removal requests followed by Germany (188), India (142), the US (123), South Korea (64) and the UK (59).

Ireland emerged as having no user data requests – as of yet – but at least less than 10 data removal requests.

Google says it revealed the map because it tries to be as transparent as legally possible with respect to requests and it tries to notify users about requests that may affect them personally.

Government censorship of the web

But, warned David Drummond, senior vice-president, corporate development and chief legal officer: “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.

“So it’s no surprise that Google, like other technology and telecommunications companies, regularly receives demands from government agencies to remove content from our services. Of course many of these requests are entirely legitimate, such as requests for the removal of child pornography.

“We also regularly receive requests from law-enforcement agencies to hand over private user data. Again, the vast majority of these requests are valid and the information needed is for legitimate criminal investigations. However, data about these activities historically has not been broadly available. We believe that greater transparency will lead to less censorship.

“We are today launching a new Government Requests tool to give people information about the requests for user data or content removal we receive from government agencies around the world.

“For this launch, we are using data from July-December 2009, and we plan to update the data in six-month increments,” Drummond said.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years