Google, YouTube received 10,000 government requests for user data

The vast majority of requests for private user data "are valid and the information needed is for legitimate criminal investigations"

Google and the Google-owned YouTube received more than 10,000 requests for user data from government agencies in the six months ending Dec. 31, 2009, according to newly released data.

"Like other technology and communications companies, we regularly receive requests from government agencies around the world to remove content from our services, or provide information about users of our services and products," Google says on a new site that sheds more light onto government demands for user information and requests to take offensive material off the Web.

The vast majority of requests for private user data "are valid and the information needed is for legitimate criminal investigations." Likewise, many requests to remove videos and other content are valid, for example requests to nix child pornography, Google notes.

"However, data about these activities historically has not been broadly available," Google said in its blog Tuesday. "We believe that greater transparency will lead to less censorship."

Between July 1 and Dec. 31, Google received 3,580 requests for user data from U.S. government agencies, slightly less than the 3,663 originating from Brazil. The United Kingdom and India sent more than 1,000 requests each, and smaller numbers originated from various other countries.

Brazil also sent the most requests to remove content, at 291. Germany was second with 188 such requests, followed by India with 142 and the United States with 123. Google fully or partially complied with 80% of content removal requests in the United States.

The numbers are imperfect, because a single request could consist of multiple users' data or removal of multiple URLs. There could also be multiple requests for the same data or to remove the same content.

So far, Google is not saying how often it complies with government requests for user data, but said it plans to in the future.

"We would like to be able to share more information, including how many times we disclosed data in response to these requests, but it's not an easy matter," Google says. "The requests we receive for user data come from a variety of government agencies with different legal authorities and different forms of requests. Given all this complexity, we haven't figured out yet how to categorize and quantify these requests in a way that adds meaningful transparency, but we plan to in the future."

In related news on Tuesday, Google was sent an open letter by government regulators from several countries demanding that the company respect national laws on user privacy.

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