Today, Google launched a fascinating new feature listing requests
from government agencies for removal of content on Google and YouTube
and for corresponding user information. Set up as a map, the Government Requests tool
shows various countries around the world and lists the number of
requests from that country between July and December of last year. You
can learn, for example, that Brazil is the most prolific sender of
content takedown requests to Google, or that Google did not comply with
any requests from Pakistan.
The information is far from complete, notably missing China, which
considers any such requests a state secret. The United States also
restricts disclosure of some user information requests, such as
National Security Letters. Nevertheless, Google's Government Requests
tool is a tremendously important first step towards informing the
public about the extent to which governments around the world seek
information about them and we commend Google for creating it.
Historically, much of this information was tightly held by governments
and service providers, and the public had little ability to review
government encroachment into their private spaces. As we push for
strengthening the federal privacy law regulating government access to
Internet communications and records as part of the Digital Due Process coalition, this information will be an important part of the ongoing debate.
Moving forward, we'd love to see more detail. It would be useful to
know whether the takedown was due to allegations of (for example)
indecency, hate speech, lese majesty, other something else. Was the
user information request seeking to identify a anonymous speaker or to
gather further information about a known person? More detail for large
countries like the United States would also be welcome, breaking down
the countrywide number into each state or province. To have a complete
picture, we'd also like to see statistics for how often Google
disclosed data in response, broken down by jurisdiction.
As we move further into an era of cloud computing in which people
entrust an ever-increasing amount of their personal, even intimate,
information to corporations, other internet companies should offer
improved transparency to help protect against government prying.
Google's new Government Requests tool is a welcome start, an example we
hope many more companies promptly follow. Indeed, the best solution for
transparency and openness might be a universal tool, including all the
major service providers.
Electronic Frontier Foundation