UK leads in Europe for Google data surveillance

A tool released by Google shows how many requests British government agencies have made to see user data, and shows content takedown stats

UK government agencies made 1,166 requests to Google for data on users in the second half of last year, a higher tally than any other European country.

The figures were published on a government requests web page launched by Google on Tuesday. The page gives numbers for data surveillance requests by authorities — plus requests for removals of data from YouTube — for a range of countries around the world. The statistics cover the period from July to December 2009.

The user data surveillance count primarily covers applications from law enforcement in criminal matters, Google said in an FAQ for the page. In this area, the UK trailed only the US, which made 3,580 requests, and Brazil, which made 3,663 requests.

"Decisions about what content to remove or which user data requests to comply with can be complicated and difficult," said the company in an overview of the web page. "When we receive a request for user information, we review it carefully and provide only information properly within the scope and authority of the request."

Google's chief legal officer David Drummond said in a blog post on Tuesday that the tool was intended to start to "shine some light on the scale and scope of government requests for censorship and data around the globe". The page will be refreshed with data every six months and refined to give more information, said Google.

No statistics were available for Chinese government requests for user data or for content takedown requests. Google pulled out of the Chinese mainland over objections to hacking and censorship. Western companies, including Yahoo, have admitted to supplying the Chinese government with information about dissidents.

"Chinese officials consider censorship demands as state secrets, so we cannot disclose that information at this time," said the Google FAQ.

The Google tool provides a breakdown of content takedown requests country-by-country, along with a compliance percentage. In the UK in the second half of 2009, Google received 59 takedown requests, and complied with 76.3 percent, or 45 of those requests. The country with the highest compliance was Germany, where Google complied with 94 percent of applications for content removal.

The content takedown statistics do not include requests for removal for copyright infringement reasons. Instead, they focus on removal related to alleged defamation, hate speech and impersonation, among other reasons, said Google. Child pornography-related requests are not included, as Google attempts to remove all such pornography automatically, said the company.