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UK requests for Google user data down despite growing number of requests by other countries

The UK Government and UK courts made fewer requests to Google for information about its users in the six months to June this year than they did in the preceding six months, bucking an international trend, according to Google statistics.14 Nov 2012

In its latest Transparency Report Google revealed that it had complied with 64% of the 1,425 requests the UK had made between January and June this year for information about Google users. The requests related to 1,732 individual users or accounts.

Between July and December 2011 Google complied with 64% of 1,455 user data requests made by the UK in relation to 1,764 individual users or accounts.

However, the report revealed that Google had received 20,938 user data requests from governments around the world between January and June this year, up from a total of 18,257 in the previous six months.

"One trend has become clear: Government surveillance is on the rise," Dorothy Chou, senior policy analyst at Google said in a company blog. "Government demands for user data have increased steadily since we first launched the Transparency Report. In the first half of 2012, there were 20,938 inquiries from government entities around the world. Those requests were for information about 34,614 accounts."

The US made 7,969 user data requests to Google between January and June, compared with 6,321 requests made during the period covering July to December 2011. Of the latest batch of US requests the internet giant complied with 90% of them, it said.

Google also revealed that there was a spike in the number of pieces of content that governments around the world had asked it to remove from its services, which its search engine, email and social network offerings.

In the first six months of 2012 it received 1,791 separate content removal requests from governments relating to 17,746 pieces of content, according to the report.

Google said that content removal requests from the UK during the January-June 2012 period had increased by 98% on those made by UK courts and government bodies in the previous six months. The company gave two examples of the content removal requests it had received from the UK during the first six months of the year.

"We received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove 14 search results for linking to sites that criticise the police and claim individuals were involved in obscuring crimes," Google said in its report. "We did not remove content in response to this request. In addition, we received a request from another local law enforcement agency to remove a YouTube video for criticising the agency of racism. We did not remove content in response to this request."

Chou said that Google had received "falsified court orders" asking for content to be removed from its services, but said that the company does try to "verify the legitimacy of the documents" it receives before determining whether it needs to comply with the requests detailed in them.

According to the Google statistics, 39% of the country content removal requests it has received since July 2010 have been for reasons of claimed defamation. Requests for privacy and security reasons make up 20% of the total it has received, with copyright and national security reasons each accounting for 2% of the cases.