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Google’s transparency report is revealing secrets companies are trying hard to hide. The report has even revealed that letters concerning the national security of both the US and Britain have been among some of the documents removed from the internet.

The reports are released every six months to give complete transparency to companies and the public on what is being removed from the internet and who is requesting the removals. Google has now given worldwide access to what data is removed from the internet on a daily basis on the requests of companies and organisations worldwide.

The statistics that Google are providing now give the world an insight as to what is being removed from the internet on a daily basis. The details are as specific as knowing what companies are requesting the removal of programs and files and what the specific program or file that they are trying to remove may be.

The reports have received positive responses from much of the online world and by privacy experts. However despite providing peace of mind for internet users and companies there are still areas of the reports that remain debatable. So what are these causes for debate?

Well one of the biggest areas of debate has been Google’s disclosure over NSL’s (National Security Letters) that the U.S. has requested be removed. This news may come as cause for concern over how easy it can be to leak documents concerning national security of nations on the internet.

The amount of documents that the U.S has requested be removed has risen over the last year. Statistics show that in the latter half of 2012 the U.S put in 8,438 requests for removal of certain internet user data. This was a 6% increase on requests from the year before.

What makes these statistics more suspicious is the U.S’s unwillingness to disclose accurate details over this information to Google. In an article written by two members of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) last month, it was revealed that the U.S wouldn’t reveal the precise number of NSL’s the U.S. requested to remove. The numbers each year from 2009 up to 2012 were only revealed as “0-999”.

The EFF article went on to accuse the FBI of abusing their power over keeping such information undisclosed. Only through EFF requests under the Freedom of Information Act and under what the article calls “a series of congressionally-mandated Department of Justice investigations” have they been able to bring some of this information to light.

There are however U.S sanctions allowing both the FBI and U.S intelligence agencies to withhold certain information. The U.S Patriot Act for instance allows the government to hide requests concerning user data should they wish it.

Google has insisted that they will try to make the nature of such requests clearer in their reports in the future. It will be very interesting to see how Google will tackle this issue considering that under the U.S Patriot Act government bodies such as the FBI aren’t allowed to publish such details.

Another cause for debate amongst people is the number of requests from government bodies in countries worldwide to remove material that may defame or criticise politicians and their associates. According to the report France and Germany registered a huge increase in these types of request. In the time between the most recent report and the one released several months before, France registered a 132% increase in requests to remove material that criticised or defamed a political figure. Germany meanwhile registered a 140% increase in removal requests of this nature.

France and Germany are just two of many examples of what both companies and government officials within their countries are trying to keep concealed from the public. It is not only a cause for concern that sensitive and/or secret material can now be so easily leaked in such quantities onto the internet. But also that it has the potential to spark suspicion from the worldwide public as to what their own governments may be concealing from them. Not only that but despite laws and acts that mean certain information cannot be disclosed to the public the information still ends up, even if only on a temporary basis, available to the world on the internet.

What is therefore becoming apparent is the increasing ease with which sensitive material can now be posted onto the online world. The case stretches far further than just France and Germany and is becoming a problem for governments across the globe. For example the most recent report shows that Russia has requested the removal of 160 YouTube videos that show extremist activity that violates government laws counteracting extremist movement across the country.

Meanwhile the UK has had a 98% increase in removal requests since the last report according to Google. The main body of cases concerned a series of requests from an unnamed local law enforcement agency to remove material that suggested they were involved in obscuring crimes. Google states that: –

“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. We did not remove content in response to this request.”

Whether the allegations made against the unnamed law enforcement agency are credible or not is irrelevant. The main point to take from information such as this is that the public, companies, organisations etc. can be given more peace of mind knowing that such transparency is becoming more available.

Such transparency is more important than ever right now in a world where technology and the internet are becoming the basis for much of what we do these days. The awareness provided by Google’s reports allows the world to keep tabs on what is being accepted and rejected from our computer screens and our private user data to keep us protected from difficulties concerning our privacy and legal entanglements.

Despite the success of the Google transparency report there is still much information kept from the majority of the public worldwide. There is still a lot of information, especially concerning government and national security issues that still find their way onto the online world. It is true that there are many appropriate government laws and legislations that keep sensitive material from being accessed but it appears that some of these measures are constantly on the back foot.

In the majority of cases where requests have been made to remove sensitive government or company material, such requests can only be made in retrospect after leaked information is discovered.

What is clear as of now is the need for two things. Firstly there is a definite need for tighter defences over safeguarding sensitive or inappropriate material on behalf of governments and companies worldwide.

Steps must be taken to protect online data on a more stringent level for the benefit of not just individual organisations but also for those who are seeing these online leaks occur when looking at Google’s reports. I understand that to keep up with the constantly evolving methods that hackers online are employing is extremely difficult. But when such information as that concerns the national security of entire nations and is carelessly handled it has the potential to spark doubts amongst the majority of us who depend on our governments to protect such information.

Secondly there needs to be an element of trust built between organisations and those whom information on the Google reports concerns. As I mentioned earlier it will be very interesting to see what sanctions can possibly be made to allow the better disclosure of sensitive material requested to be removed by government bodies. But the Google transparency reports are already showing very positive signs for progress, not just in this department but also when enlightening people worldwide as to the dangers and pitfalls contained in the internet.

What Google needs now is to have the ability to expand even further in its reports. The positive feedback the reports have had from many privacy experts given how recently the reports were introduced shows a clear faith in what the service offers.

Should Google be given the freedom to expand its resources and provide further clarity on information that is only partially disclosed to us it would be a major turning point in the relationship between the public and major corporations and governments.

There is the potential here for Google to work alongside these organisations to create a clearer picture worldwide of what online activity is constantly taking place around the globe. However only with the ability to press further authority in these reports can Google tackle certain issues regarding internet security onto another level.

BY: ROBERT PRITCHARD

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