On Tuesday November 13th, 2012 at 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, The website of the London newspaper, The Guardian, posted an article titled “Google report reveals sharp increase in government requests for users’ data”. The article was written by Dominic Rushe of New York, who is a US business correspondent for the Guardian. In the first half of 2012, Google, the Internet search giant reported that government authorities around the world made more than 20,000 requests for users’ data. Governments strongly requested the removal of certain content and to hand over users’ data to their official agencies. The top three reasons mentioned by governments for the deletion of content on Google are defamation, privacy, and security.
The United States government made the most demands for access to the personal data of Google users, including search results, access to Gmail accounts and removal of YouTube videos. Google fully or partially complied with 90% of those requests. France and Germany, two countries that have strongly advocated more privacy online, made the most demands out of any European countries in this reporting period. Google conformed to fewer than half of all requests in both countries. This article implies that the government surveillance of citizens’ online lives around the world is rising rapidly according to Google’s latest reports. The article reports all the figures found within Google’s report and discusses details regarding why some of the countries requested Google to remove certain content.
Student Researcher: Richard Andrews, Indian River State College
Faculty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., Indian River State College
Dominic Rushe, Google report reveals sharp increase in government requests for users’ data, The Guardian, Nov. 13, 2012
Google is no doubt the largest and most widely used search engine on the planet. It controls 84.14 % of the global market. If you didn’t know, Google stores all users search queries and YouTube videos. Every time you search and every time you upload a YouTube video, that data is stored by Google’s servers. More and more governments around the world are requesting Google to either remove your content or to hand over your user data. Google’s 6th time transparency report is the guide to how Google is interacting with the governments of the world’s request in 2012. Dominic Rushe’s article makes it clear that, these government requests are on a sharp increase.
The removal of content can limit our freedom of speech by censoring search results and content uploads. These requests of users’ data can help with national security by providing information on potential national threats. But without our informed consent as citizens it violates our right of self-determination, which can lead to a totalitarian type of government rule. The maxim (principle on which one acts) of these government requests is based on the content or user data being a security, privacy or defaming issue. When a maxim cannot be universally applied to all autonomous beings, it presents an ethical problem for our society.
Let’s look at a simple view of ethics called Consequentialism. This view of ethics states that an act is either ethical or not based on the consequences of the action. When Google removes content or gives up user data with regard to a government request, the consequences can be harmful. In the case of this article, in the UK, local police authorities unsuccessfully pushed for Google to remove links to sites that accused the police of obscuring crime and racism. The
consequences of Google not removing the links were to allow United Kingdom citizens to see the full truth of the police force via the search engine, which showed evidence of the organization obscuring crimes and committing acts of racism. On the other hand, though, United Kingdom government officials are now considering a bill that would require internet and phone companies to track and supply every citizen’s web and mobile phone use, including social networking sites, without holding their content, for 12 months. This is a major violation of privacy.
All over the world these requests of users’ data are rising. According to the article, authorities made 1,791 requests for Google to remove 17,746 pieces of content in the first half of 2012, almost twice as many as the 949 requests made in the same period last year, and up from 1,048 requests made in the last six months of 2011.The information disclosed in the reports is only a small percentage of how governments’ interact with the internet because we don’t know what requests are made from other big internet companies such as Facebook and Twitter. Google should rationally compromise with government agencies regarding the request, and then maybe the request will be seen as universally acceptable. I believe supplementary data like the Google transparency reports will encourage a public debate in the future about how we can best keep the internet open and unrestricted.