Google’s latest transparency report numbers highlight a “worrying” trend that has emerged over the last four years: government requests to remove critical political content.

December 19, 2013 10:07 AM PST

(Credit: Google)
The number of requests Google receives from governments around the world to remove content from its services continue to rise at a rapid pace.
Google received 3,846 government requests to remove 24,737 pieces of content during the first half of 2013, a 68 percent increase over the 2,285 government removal requests the company received in the second half of 2012. Google released the updated numbers Thursday, which cover requests made from January to June 2013, as part of its Transparency Report.
Google spotlighted one trend in particular that it said has remained consistent since launching the report in 2010: government requests to remove political content. Google said it received 93 requests to take down government criticism during the reporting period and removed content in response to “less than one-third of them.” Google gave examples of these requests:

Judges have asked us to remove information that’s critical of them, police departments want us to take down videos or blogs that shine a light on their conduct, and local institutions like town councils don’t want people to be able to find information about their decision-making processes.

These officials often cite defamation, privacy and even copyright laws in attempts to remove political speech from our services.

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Two countries, Turkey and Russia, made significantly more requests for content to be removed during the first half of 2013, Google said. Turkish authorities made 1,673 removal requests, a nearly “tenfold increase over the second half of last year.” Russia made 257 removal requests, more than double the number of requests it made throughout 2012, Google said.
Transparency reports have become a regular occurrence for tech companies, with annual or semiannual reports coming from Web giants like Google, Apple, Twitter, Yahoo, Facebook, and Microsoft.
The reports have taken on even more significance since documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden led to dramatic revelations about online surveillance conducted by the US National Security Agency and other government bodies. Several of these tech companies have joined together to demand limits on government surveillance and the right to publish details about government requests for user data.
You can see a full breakdown of removal requests received from governments during the first half of the year by country in the notable observations portion of the Transparency Report.
Update, 10:53 a.m. PT adds more details on tech giants’ efforts to limit government surveillance.

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