India is one of only four countries which, during the first half of 2011, requested Google to remove content on the basis that it was critical of the government. Google refused to comply. The other countries were Thailand and Turkey — where Google restricted local users from accessing the offending content — and the United States, where it refused.
According to Google's Transparency Report for January to June 2011, the Internet search giant received requests from the Indian government – which seems to include State and Central governments, police and courts – to remove 358 items. In a breakdown of reasons for such requests, 255 items were classified under the “government criticism” category. It is not clear if Google would classify offensive items about a political leader under the category of defamation or government criticism.
Interestingly, the biggest chunk of this is accounted for by a single “request from a local law enforcement agency to remove 236 communities and profiles from [social networking site] orkut that were critical of a local politician.” Google did not identify this politician, but it did state that “we did not comply with this request, since the content did not violate our Community Standards or local law.”
Google's statistics gain significance in the light of its alleged refusal to comply with the Indian government's recent demand to block the publication of incendiary hate speech from its sites. On Monday, Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology Kapil Sibal summoned executives of Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft for a meeting after they stonewalled repeated requests to block incendiary communal material being posted on social networking sites they operated.
However, Google's Transparency Report data seems to indicate that only 8 items were requested to be removed under the category of hate speech.
Instead, 39 items were requested to be removed on grounds of defamation, 20 due to privacy and security concerns, 14 due to impersonation, three identified as pornographic items, and one request due to national security reasons.
However, the single largest category is government criticism; apart from the 236 items on orkut, the government also asked for 19 items on YouTube to be removed on these grounds.
Overall, Google says it complied fully or partially with 51 per cent of the requests. “We received requests from state and local law enforcement agencies to remove YouTube videos that displayed protests against social leaders or used offensive language in reference to religious leaders,” said the Google report. “We declined the majority of these requests and only locally restricted videos that appeared to violate local laws prohibiting speech that could incite enmity between communities.”
Last year, between July and December 2010, Google says it “received requests from different law enforcement agencies to remove a blog and YouTube videos that were critical of Chief Ministers and senior officials of different states.” It did not comply with those requests.
The other countries which requested for content removal on grounds of government criticism had mixed success. Thailand's Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology made two requests to “remove 225 YouTube videos for allegedly insulting the monarchy in violation of Thailand's lèse-majesté law.” Google complied with the request, restricting Thai users from accessing 90% of the videos.
In Turkey, Google received court orders and requests from the Telecom authority “to remove YouTube videos and blogs that documented details about the private lives of political officials.”
Google says it “restricted Turkish users from accessing YouTube videos that appeared to violate local laws and removed the blogs for violating Blogger's Terms of Service.”