Brazil has a big lead as the country with the most government requests to remove online content by judicial order in the latest Google Transparency Report, released on Thursday, April 25. In the period between July and December 2012, the search giant received 1,461 court-ordered requests from governments around the world to remove content, including YouTube videos and search results, with nearly 43 percent of them coming from Brazilian authorities.
"The number of content removal requests we received increased by 265% compared to the previous reporting period," reported Google in its notes on Brazil. This is not the first time the country has been the leader in government censorship requests, according to past Transparency Reports from Google. See the infographic from the Knight Center below to chart Brazil's requests over the years.
The 2012 elections contributed to the alarming rise, up to 316 requests--almost a half of the total--related to supposed violations of the Brazilian Elections Code. YouTube was the most targeted service for censorship requests.
The judicial route has proven to be the most effective way to censor content critical of Brazilian authorities, as shown in this timeline from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. In two cases, the director of Google Brasil went to jail for refusing to comply with a court order to remove videos a mayoral candidate considered offensive.
"Google removed content in response to 35 final court decisions. Google is exercising its right of appeal provided under Brazilian law in the other cases, on the basis that the content is protected by freedom of expression under the Brazilian Constitution," the company explained.
The United States, second on the list, made 262 requests to remove 3,624 items. Google acquiesced to 45 percent of them. When it came to requesting user information, the U.S. was at the top, with 8,438 requests for information on 14,791 users, of which Google approved 88 percent of the time, the highest percentage on the list.
A majority of the requests for content removal were related to political criticism. Google's official blog observed that government attempts to censor content on its platforms have increased over the last several reports. "In more places than ever, we’ve been asked by governments to remove political content that people post on our services. In this particular time period, we received court orders in several countries to remove blog posts criticizing government officials or their associates."
Argentina was the third country in the Americas with the most content removal requests for Google. In the latest period analyzed, there were 51 requests to remove 160 items, of which 96 percent were honored. The report highlighted a request from the Argentine government to remove a YouTube video that supposedly defamed the president "by depicting her in a compromising position." The video was not removed but there was an age restriction placed on it.
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.