At a time when racism is on the rise in Europe, reportedly reaching its worst level since the 1980s, it is more more important than ever to stand up against scapegoating of migrants and minorities. Two initiatives highlight our commitment to tolerance.

In Germany, we kicked off a new edition this month of the YouTube 361 Grad Respekt combating social exclusion and (cyber-)bullying. This YouTube youth competition runs five video camps across the country, helping students script and shoot videos. You can also participate from home using a webcam or make a video with your smartphone or tablet. Tell us all what makes you strong, talk about your experiences, give others courage, and inspire and motivate them to submit their own statement about showing more respect. Share the video and upload here.

Submissions from the five video camps will be presented one by one on until September. Keep checking the channel. After only two days live, the site had received more than 500,000 views!

In Hungary, we’re well into our second year of an exciting program called WeAreOpen. It’s rallying cry is: "Being open is not only the right thing to do, but it's also worth it." To date, more than 750 companies, communities and organisations, big and small, have signed up in support. This year’s version launched in March with a social media campaign to counter hate speech. Musicians, actors, celebrities, and Internet users (including students, doctors and teachers) shared their own experiences, taking a stand against prejudice, showing support for Roma, lesbians, gays, Jews and handicapped. Their videos have received more than 200,000 views on YouTube.

At July’s Budapest Pride march, WeAreOpen supplied an army of colorful balloons and invited everyone to join. The march was live streamed the on YouTube and more than 20,000 watched it live.

This year's WeAreOpen 2014 features research from the Gemius consulting firm about diversity and tolerance at the workplace. It found that more than half of Hungarian employees have already encountered negative discrimination.

The virus of hatred, unfortunately, will not vanish. 361 Grad Respekt, WeAreOpen and many more initiatives promoting tolerance are urgently needed.

It’s not always that a private corporation and a civil rights NGO see eye to eye on key issues. But this is the case for Google and Index on Censorship.

For the fourth year in a row, we worked with Index on its annual awards event, which took place last evening at London's Barbican Centre. This ongoing relationship reflects our common concerns about the ongoing and increasing government crackdown against the free and open Internet. Index has made a strong move to invest in the defense not just of print, radio and tv freedom - but also with us in defence of online freedom.

When we first learned about Digital Freedom Award, we were immediately impressed with its motto - celebrating the fundamental right to "write, blog, tweet, speak out, protest and create art and literature and music." Google aims to provide a platform to promote just such a fundamental right. The Digital Freedom Award recognizes the original use of new technology to foster debate, argument or dissent.

Google Digital Journalism Award winner Shubhranshu Choudhary
Let’s be clear: Total editorial control remains with Index. Index, not us, chooses the nominees. Until now, distinguished juries have selected winners. But this year, we worked with Index on an innovation - asking the public to vote by filling in an online form.

This year’s nominees came from China, India, the U.S., and appropriately enough, cyberspace! There was whistleblower Edward Snowden, whose actions are well-known.

There was the Chinese microblogging Weibo, an uncensored version of China’s biggest social network, SinaWeibo. Free Weibo keeps track of and publishes everything which has been censored and deleted by the government, providing a fascinating insight into the regime’s priorities and fears.

There was TAILS - the Incognoto Amnesiac Live Operating System. Its open-source encryption tool helps protect the free online communication of journalists and sources in any country, regardless of official limits on free expression.

The winner came from India, journalist Shubhranshu Choudhary. He’s the brains behind CGNet Swara (Voice of Chhattisgarh) a mobile-phone (no smartphone required) service that allows citizens to upload and listen to local reports in their own dialect.

Please join us in congratulating Shubhranshu - and all the free-expression champions who shines a light on their ongoing struggle against censorship around the world.

For the past 14 years the Index on Censorship Awards have honoured some of the most remarkable fighters for free expression from around the world - from assassinated Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya to Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim and Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat to education activist Malala Yousafzai. Until now, distinguished juries have selected all the winners. But this year, we’re working with Index on an innovation - asking the public to vote for the digital activist award, which honours the person who has done the most to defend online freedom.

Take a look at the nominees and vote here. Voting finishes next Monday, February 3, so please do act fast.

This is the fourth year Google has worked with Index on its annual awards event. Total editorial control remains with Index; they choose the nominees. We are just delighted to support this important organization’s new and important work in defence of online freedom. For a taste of the excitement surrounding the ceremony, watch last year’s highlight video below.

This year’s awards ceremony take place on Thursday March 20, 6.30pm, at the Barbican Centre in London. In addition to the digital defender award, three other awards will be given out, one for journalism, one for advocacy and one for arts. Tickets are available, so please do join us to celebrate free-expression champions and shine a light on their ongoing struggle against censorship around the world.

For many years, Amnesty International and its 3.2 million members have stood up for human rights by organizing Write for Rights - an annual global letter-writing marathon. People from over 80 countries come together to support individuals and communities suffering human rights abuses. Today, with our support, Amnesty will mark the International Human Rights Day by building a new digital platform for this year’s Write for Rights Marathon.

Amnesty’s marathon website will focus on three cases: that of a community leader imprisoned because he tried to stop clashes between religious groups, that of a community that is living in makeshift shelters after their houses were demolished and that of a man brutally attacked by the police. The new website will link to YouTube to show videos of individuals and communities suffering human rights abuses.

This launch represents what we hope is just a beginning. Over the coming months, we will support Amnesty to build a platform that will help Amnesty to respond in a rapid and reactive way to human rights violations.

Amnesty has a unique way of humanising the often abstract issues around free expression. This new website represents not just a modernisation of its letter writing techniques; it also demonstrates an acknowledgement that the future of free expression depends much on the future of the open and free Internet, which anyone with a connection, anywhere in the world, can use to reach a global audience.

For the individual cases featured in Amnesty’s appeal, the impact of letter writing is often life changing, restoring their freedom. As Julio de Peña Valdez, a released prisoner of conscience from the Dominican Republic said after his release, “The letters kept coming and coming: three thousand of them. The president was informed. The letters still kept arriving, and the president called the prison and told them to let me go. After I was released, the president called me to his office. He said: 'How is it that a trade union leader like you has so many friends from all over the world?' He showed me an enormous box full of letters he had received and, when we parted, he gave them to me.”

We have always believed in the liberating power of technology: more information means more discussion, better choices and eventually more freedom. Our goal with Amnesty is to raise awareness of the critical human rights issues around the world, including free expression, creating international pressure for their resolution.

In a year in which government surveillance has dominated the headlines, today we’re updating our Transparency Report for the eighth time. Since we began sharing these figures with you in 2010, requests from governments for user information have increased by more than 100 percent. This comes as usage of our services continues to grow, but also as more governments have made requests than ever before. And these numbers only include the requests we’re allowed to publish.

Over the past three years, we’ve continued to add more details to the report, and we’re doing so again today. We’re including additional information about legal process for U.S. criminal requests: breaking out emergency disclosures, wiretap orders, pen register orders and other court orders.

We want to go even further. We believe it’s your right to know what kinds of requests and how many each government is making of us and other companies. However, the U.S. Department of Justice contends that U.S. law does not allow us to share information about some national security requests that we might receive. Specifically, the U.S. government argues that we cannot share information about the requests we receive (if any) under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But you deserve to know.

Earlier this year, we brought a federal case to assert that we do indeed have the right to shine more light on the FISA process. In addition, we recently wrote a letter of support (PDF) for two pieces of legislation currently proposed in the U.S. Congress. And we’re asking governments around the world to uphold international legal agreements that respect the laws of different countries and guarantee standards for due process are met.

Our promise to you is to continue to make this report robust, to defend your information from overly broad government requests, and to push for greater transparency around the world.

The Internet is a remarkable platform for giving each of us a voice to reach a global audience. In some cases, unfortunately, people abuse this freedom by publishing unlawful content. Europe’s E-Commerce Directive provides clear rules for dealing with this content without sacrificing the Internet’s broader free expression mission. Importantly, the law says platforms should not be forced to become Internet police, monitoring all content to prevent certain material from ever getting online.

In a Paris courtroom today, former Formula One head Max Mosley's lawyers asked a judge to upset this balance by imposing an alarming new model of automated censorship. He wants web companies to build software filters, in an attempt to automatically detect and delete certain content. Specifically, Mr. Mosley demands that Google build a filter to screen Google’s index and proactively block pages containing images from our results – without anyone, much less a judge, ever seeing it or understanding the context in which the image appears.

We sympathize with Mr. Mosley, and with anyone who believes their rights have been violated. We offer well-established tools to help people to remove specific pages from our search results when those pages have clearly been determined to violate the law. In fact, we have removed hundreds of pages for Mr. Mosley, and stand ready to remove others he identifies.

But the law does not support Mr. Mosley’s demand for the construction of an unprecedented new Internet censorship tool. In repeated rulings, Europe’s highest court has noted that filters are blunt instruments that jeopardise lawful expression and undermine users’ fundamental right to access information. A set of words or images may break the law in one context, but be lawful in another. As an example, a filter might end up censoring news reports about Mr. Mosley’s own court case.

While constituting a dangerous new censorship tool, the filter would fail to solve Mr. Mosley’s problems. Pages removed from search results remain live on the Internet, accessible to users by other means – from following links on social networks to simply navigating to the address in a browser. As an example, one page Mr. Mosley sought to remove comes from a blog, which according to public sources, receives the vast majority of its visits from sources other than web search.

This not just a case about Google, but the entire Internet industry. If Mr. Mosley’s proposal prevails, any start-up could face the same daunting and expensive obligation to build new censorship tools -- despite the harm to users’ fundamental rights and the ineffectiveness of such measures.

We don’t hold paper makers or the people who build printing presses responsible if their customers use those things to break the law. The true responsibility for unlawful content lies with the people who produce it; how web companies work to reduce this content is set out in the E-Commerce Directive. We hope that the courts of France and Germany, where Mr. Mosley has also filed suit, will reject his request for a censorship machine.

Two decades ago, Central and Eastern Europe threw off the shackles of communism. Today, the region is among Europe’s most dynamic, and we recently held our first Big Tent in the region to investigate how Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary could play a leadership role in driving forward innovation on the web.

This newfound freedom encourages the region to embrace the Internet, Polish ministers said. “We prefer freedom,” Michal Boni, the digitisation minister, repeated twice in the keynote address. Deputy Foreign Minister Henryka Mościcka-Dendys argued that new technologies helping “civic initiatives gain wider ground for their actions.” A concrete example is opening up public data. By examining online license plate records Zuzana Wienk, a Slovak anti-corruption campaigner, demonstrated the bidding for street cleanup services was rigged.

The Internet already is driving economic progress. At the Big Tent, we showcased successful Internet startups and social innovators. They ranged from Polands’ game startup Dice+ and audio books pioneer Audioteka to Hungarys’ to K-Monitor transparency project and presentation tools developer Prezi. From Slovakia, traditional Ultra Plast plastic maker showed how to leverage its net presence to boost exports.

At the same time, the region needs to improve its education and regulation. While universities produce excellent engineers, they rank low in equipping graduates with needed business skills. Too few offerings exist for adult education. “If there is no lifelong learning, there is no lifelong earning,” quipped Jan Figel, Deputy Speaker of the Slovak Parliament. Other panelists wanted to see government change regulations to make it easier for companies to take risks, to start new businesses and to wind them down if and when they fail.

Our Big Tent took place in the wake of revelations that the U.S. intelligence agencies had conducted an online surveillance campaign. Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond stressed that the threats to the open web are not always from autocratic regimes and that any limitations to freedom online should be set narrowly. He acknowledged the dangers of online radical and racist speech. But he said that the Internet offers the best vehicle for dealing with the issue - “counter-speech” denouncing the hate.

Most of the debate had an optimistic tone, with faith in future innovation. The audience appreciated a demonstration of Google Glass. Slovakia’s Figel, who previously served as a European Commissioner, tried on a pair and checked the weather in the European Union’s capital Brussels. It was sunny outside in Warsaw - and grey and overcast in Brussels.

This morning, the Advocate General at the EU’s Central Court of Justice issued an important opinion supporting freedom of expression. In a case between Google and the Spanish Data Protection Agency, the Advocate General agreed with us that data protection authorities cannot force search engines to block search results linking to legal content. “Requesting search engine service providers to suppress legitimate and legal information that has entered the public domain would entail an interference with the freedom of expression,” the Advocate General said. “It would amount to censorship.”

This is just an opinion. The full court still has to make a final ruling. Even so, we’re encouraged because the case is key to free expression online. Advocate General Niilo Jääskinen argues publishers are responsible for the information they put online. Search engines have no control over the information posted by others. They just point to it.

Let us be clear: we think it’s important for people to be able to control the information that they post online themselves. If you post something online about yourself, you should have the right to remove it or take it somewhere else. If someone else posts illegal defamatory content about you, we’ll remove it from our index with a legal order.

In this case we’re simply challenging the notion that information that is demonstrably legal - and that continues to be publicly available on the web - can be censored. People shouldn't be prevented from learning that a politician was convicted of taking a bribe, or that a doctor was convicted of malpractice. The Internet has allowed unprecedented access to information. In order to achieve all the social, cultural and economic benefits of the Internet, it must be kept free and open.

The Internet has spawned an explosion of online communication, allowing those who were silenced to finally speak up. During the Arab Spring, the Web became as a tool for expressing dissent and organizing demonstrations. Signs of a backlash are now emerging and the Big Tent Tunis will explore the threat of growing government censorship

Our event is taking place in Tunis as the Freedom Online coalition gathers there for the first time in an Arab country. The coalition was launched in The Hague in November, 2011 when Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the coalition at our Big Tent. Fourteen countries including Canada, Estonia, Sweden and the USA joined to promote Internet freedom.

Since the launch, Freedom Online has grown into a promising project. It has expanded into Latin America, to include Costa Rica as well as Mexico, and to Africa, to include Kenya and Ghana. Google has continued to support Freedom Online including at its second conference in Nairobi in 2012. Tunisia is not only the first Arab country to join the coalition but it is also the first to in the region to host its members. We thought it only fitting that we hold our first-ever Big Tent in the region at the same time.

Google’s Global Head for Free Expression Ross LaJeunesse will outline our goal to discuss the limits of free expression online around the globe, and in particular, in the Arab world. We’ll host a debate on the state of free expression in Tunisia with Ahmed Gaaloul, member of the Shoura Council of the Ennahdha Party and Slim Amamou, a Tunisian blogger and the former Secretary of State for Sport and Youth. We’ll also hear about the perspective from other parts of the region from Reem Al-Masri, Digital Education Director of 7iber inc, which develops training material for teachers to encourage the use of digital storytelling and social networking. The event will culminate in a debate between filmmaker Nadim Lahoud and feminist writer Joumana Haddad about art, feminism and censorship in the Arab world.

Although we at Google are biased towards people’s right to free expression, we also realize that this freedom has limits. Our goal in Tunis is encourage the Freedom Online coalition to continue fighting for online freedom - and to jump-start a debate about the state of online freedom in the Arab world.

It was a scintillating debate in a pivotal country for Internet Freedom. In the auditorium of Poland’s prestigious newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, renowned Oxford professor and writer Timothy Garton Ash hosted Digitisation Minister Michal Boni, Gazeta journalist Wojciech Orlinski, and another journalist Andrzej Grajewiski from Gosc Niedzielny, a newspaper linked to Roman Catholic Church.

Poland was the first in the former Soviet Bloc to bring down communist rule and install a free, democratic government. Thanks to this courageous history, Poles cherish Internet freedom. Huge demonstrations last year in the country’s main cities against the anti-piracy ACTA treaty helped lead to the treaty’s rejection in the European parliament – and meant that Poland was one of the most fervent advocates of the European Union rejecting last December a proposed United Nations treaty that could give governments too much control over the Net.

Timothy Garton Ash moderated the debate.
 Left to right: Michal Boni, Wojciech Orlinski andAndrzej Garjewski 
At the same time, much concern exists in the country about a worrying rise in hate speech and Polish judges have handed down surprisingly expansive rulings on intermediary liability.

Gazeta's main conference room was almost full.
Many of Poland’s most illustrious intellectuals filled Gazeta's main conference room. The newspaper’s founder, the former dissident, Adam Michnik, was supposed to show up only for a few minutes to say hello. Instead, he ended up staying for the full two and a half hours, and for the ensuing cocktail. Afterward, he said it was the first time an official associated with the Church (Gazeta is staunchly secular) had come to the newspaper headquarters.

Suffice it say that the debate was vigorous, discussing the frequent collision between privacy and freedom, the church’s concern about hate speech, and the need for Poland to become more aware of the issues around free expression on the Internet. We will be working hard in Poland to continue raising the importance of this issue.

Three years ago when we launched the Transparency Report, we said we hoped it would shine some light on the scale and scope of government requests for censorship and data around the globe. Today, for the seventh time, we’re releasing new numbers showing requests from governments to remove content from our services. From July to December 2012, we received 2,285 government requests to remove 24,179 pieces of content—an increase from the 1,811 requests to remove 18,070 pieces of content that we received during the first half of 2012.

As we’ve gathered and released more data over time, it’s become increasingly clear that the scope of government attempts to censor content on Google services has grown. 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.

You can read more about these requests by looking at the annotations section of the Transparency Report. Of particular note were three occurrences that took place in the second half of 2012:
  • There was a sharp increase in requests from Brazil, where we received 697 requests to remove content from our platforms (of which 640 were court orders—meaning we received an average of 3.5 court orders per day during this time period), up from 191 during the first half of the year. The big reason for the spike was the municipal elections, which took place last fall. Nearly half of the total requests—316 to be exact—called for the removal of 756 pieces of content related to alleged violations of the Brazilian Electoral Code, which forbids defamation and commentary that offends candidates. We’re appealing many of these cases, on the basis that the content is protected by freedom of expression under the Brazilian Constitution.
  • Another place where we saw an increase was from Russia, where a new law took effect last fall. In the first half of 2012, we received six requests, the most we had ever received in any given six-month period from Russia. But in the second half of the year, we received 114 requests to remove content—107 of them citing this new law.
  • During this period, we received inquiries from 20 countries regarding YouTube videos containing clips of the movie “Innocence of Muslims.” While the videos were within our Community Guidelines, we restricted videos from view in several countries in accordance with local law after receiving formal legal complaints. We also temporarily restricted videos from view in Egypt and Libya due to the particularly difficult circumstances there.
We’ve also made a couple of improvements to the Transparency Report since our last update:
  • We’re now breaking down government requests about YouTube videos to clarify whether we removed videos in response to government requests for violating Community Guidelines, or whether we restricted videos from view due to local laws. You can see the details by scrolling to the bottom of each country-specific page.
  • We’ve also refreshed the look of the Traffic section, making it easier to see where and when disruptions have occurred to Google services. You can see a map where our services are currently disrupted; you can see a map of all known disruptions since 2009; and you can more easily navigate between time periods and regions.
The information we share on the Transparency Report is just a sliver of what happens on the Internet. But as we disclose more data and continue to expand it over time, we hope it helps draw attention to the laws around the world that govern the free flow of information online.

Index on Censorship’s annual awards represent one of the United Kingdom’s most prestigious celebrations of freedom of expression in all forms. Held this year in the hallowed halls of London’s Middle Temple - one of the four Inns of Court, which have the exclusive right to call men and women to the Bar of England and Wales. According to Index’s chairman, Jonathan Dimbleby, the awards celebrate the fundamental right to "write, blog, tweet, speak out, protest and create art and literature and music".

Winners included South African photographer Zanele Muholi, whose photos of black lesbian life in South Africa provoked fierce opposition, Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai who was shot by the Taliban for militating for education for girls, and Greek editor Kostas Vaxevanis, who was indicted for publishing a list of wealthy Greeks who hold Swiss bank accounts and were accused of evading taxes.

Google supports the event and in particular the prize for Digital Freedom Award, which recognises the original use of new technology to foster debate, argument or dissent. An independent jury chooses the nominees and picks the winner. This year’s award went to imprisoned Palestinian-born Syrian software engineer Bassel Khartabil. A free internet pioneer, Khartabil was arrested on March 15, 2012 in Damascus His family were given no official information about why or where he was detained. Bassel's friend Dana Trometer collected the Index award on his behalf, saying she hoped the award would help him soon win his freedom.

Khartabil is known worldwide for his strong commitment to the open web, teaching others about technology. He is the inventor of an open source software that powers the Open Clip Art Library, an original contributor to the Arabic Wikipedia and the founder of Creative Commons Syria.

Amid the champagne and canapes, in the historic setting, it was inspiring to hear the stories of these brave defenders of freedom. Google is proud to support this important event.

It’s a tricky balance. Governments need to be effective in fighting crime, and while theft, trafficking and terrorism have existed for centuries, the Internet has accelerated the speed and volume at which crime can be conducted. At the same time, the Internet has become a powerful force in promoting free speech and personal freedom. What is the right balance between public safety and personal freedom? How much access should police have to user emails and other information on the Net?

We’ve asked a number of experts to debate this theme of freedom and security on the Internet today at the Big Tent in Stockholm. Along with the Civil Rights Defenders, Europol,
Privacy International, and Transparency International, we’ll be hosting members of the intelligence and research communities, law enforcement and civil society. All will share their observations and thoughts about how governments and companies should prosecute crime and guarantee rights to free expression and privacy in the information age.

We’re especially pleased that Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt will be joining us for this conversation. Sweden has one of the world’s oldest traditions of freedom of speech, and its government is a leader in using Internet tools to support democracy and freedom.

Every government has a responsibility to keep its citizens safe. Without data and analysis, it’s hard to tell if officials have the right tools to effectively investigate and stop crime online. We hope that this discussion will present hard facts on issues such as expanding lawful access provisions, prioritizing funds to keep up with rapidly advancing technology, and greater government transparency so that citizens can hold officials accountable for how they exercise policing powers.

For a preview of Thursday’s conversation, check out this Google+ Hangout that I did yesterday with former Index on Censorship chairman John Kampfner.

We wake up every day at Google asking ourselves: how can we get more information to more people around the world? Unfortunately, officials in too many governments wake up every day asking themselves: how can we stop our people from getting more information?

Those opposing questions lay at the heart of our decision back in 2008 to be a founding member company of the Global Network Initiative (GNI). The GNI is a group of companies, human rights groups and NGOs, socially responsible investors and academics that works to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector.

From the beginning, we hoped that the GNI would find common ground with other companies and groups around the world. And today we’re happy to report that the GNI is entering into a two-year collaboration with a group of eight European telecommunications firms to “find a shared and practical approach to promoting freedom of expression and privacy rights around the world.”

The eight firms — Alcatel-Lucent, France Telecom-Orange, Millicom, Nokia Siemens Networks, Telefonica, Telenor, TeliaSonera, and Vodafone — provide services and equipment in scores of countries.

The firms, known collectively as the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue, have been meeting among themselves since 2011 to discuss freedom of expression and privacy rights in their sector, and have developed a set of guiding principles. Under the new partnership, they are not joining GNI — but the GNI will house the Industry Dialogue’s work and provide a place where members of both groups can learn from each other, develop new ideas, and collaborate in protecting and advancing user privacy and freedom of expression.

For the Industry Dialogue, we hope the arrangement will give the eight companies the chance to see the advantages we’ve found in an alliance that goes beyond industry and includes NGOs and others. For the GNI — a group born of the conviction that there is strength in numbers and a diverse membership — the arrangement marks a concrete step to building a broader and more global platform to help protect user rights.

Internet users from around the world turned out to vote for people who defend Internet freedom. More than 40,000 visited a Reporters Without Borders’ YouTube Channel to choose a “Netizen of the Year” from among nine nominees of bloggers or Internet journalists. The winner, announced this week, is Huynh Ngoc Chenh from Vietnam.

This represents the fourth year that we have supported the Netizen of the Year project and the first that Internet users picked the winner. Reporters Without Borders chose the nominees based on reports from its 150 correspondents around the world. According to the Reporters, Chenh’s blog attracts about 15,000 visitors per day, even though readers must use software to circumvent censorship to gain access. He focuses on democracy, human rights and the territorial disputes between Vietnam and China.

Today, 42 countries are engaged in some form of Internet filtering, reports the Open Net Institute. At Google, our 
 in more than 
services. We were the first company to publish a Transparency Report that shows interruptions to the flow of information from our tools and services. Google also is a founding member of the Global Network Initiative, a multi-stakeholder organization -- including human rights and press freedom groups, investors, academics, and companies -- whose members commit to protect online free expression.

We’re proud to support Reporters Without Borders with this important prize that highlights the pressure many governments around the globe are putting on the Internet.

One in three Internet users suffers from restricted access to the web due to government censorship, filtering or online surveillance, according to the free expression advocacy group Reporters Without Borders. Around the world, bloggers and cyber-dissidents are jailed for expressing their views. Reporters Without Borders makes sure their struggles are not forgotten.

At Google, we believe in a free and open Internet where everyone can express their opinions and learn from others. For this reason, for the past several years we’ve partnered with Reporters Without Borders to organize their annual Netizen of the Year Award, which honors an Internet user, blogger or cyber-dissident who has made a notable contribution in defense of online freedom of expression. Last year the award went to a Syrian journalist. In 2011 it went to Nawaat, a group blog run by independent Tunisian bloggers. In 2010, the Netizen Award was awarded to Iranian cyber-feminists.

This year for the first time, Reporters Without Borders is asking you to help decide who will win the award. Nine “netizens”—from Bulgaria, Egypt, Honduras, Iran, Kazakhstan, Mali, Russia, Senegal and Vietnam—have been nominated for consideration. Watch the videos showing their stories and then vote at

We hope you’ll be as inspired as we have been by these brave people. The winner, based on votes from people like you around the world, will be announced on March 7. He or she will be invited to the award ceremony taking place at Google’s Paris office on March 12—the World Day Against Cyber Censorship.

2013 Netizen Award Nominees

  • Assen Yordanov: Founder of the investigative journalism website, Assen has published exclusives about corruption, flaws in the judicial system, and links between politicians and organized crime.
  • Mosireen: Founded and run by a group of citizen-journalists and activists to document the 2011 revolution, the Mosireen collective traces its origins to the “explosion of citizen journalism and cultural activism in Egypt during the revolution.” Its contributors collected photos, videos and eyewitness accounts of the 18 days of demonstrations that led to Hosni Mubarak’s fall. Their YouTube channel at first just showed video footage shot by demonstrators. But they now also produce videos and video news reports.
  • Itsmania Pineda Platero: This independent journalist, blogger and human rights defender reports on the “maras,” the gangs of extremely violent young criminals that have spread throughout Central America. A vocal critic of her country’s June 2009 coup d’état and its impact on freedom of information – 23 journalists have been murdered since the military took power – she led a peaceful demonstration in front of the presidential palace, which police repressed with violence. After receiving repeated death threats, Reporters Without Borders has helped her to obtain personal protection.
  • Shiva Nazar Ahari: A 27-year-old human rights activist and cyber-dissident, Shiva is serving a four-year jail sentence for her activities as editor the Azad Zan (Women’s Liberation) website, She also has been sentenced to 74 lashes. Seventeen other netizens are currently detained in Iran, where the Islamic Republic’s authorities treat independent news and information providers, especially women cyber-dissidents, as unwanted witnesses.
  • Murat Tungishbayev: An opposition activist, Murat created the election monitoring coalition “Saylau,” producing an interactive map to register fraud during the January 2012 legislative elections. The National Security Committee summoned him for questioning about his links with labour activists and opposition politicians. When investigators tried to force him to testify against two detainees, he fled the country.
  • Oumarou Mohamed Lamine: This reporter and programme host on Radio AADAR FM (Adar Koima - “Joy of the Hill”), was one of the few who provided information to the outside world from northern Mali during its occupation by Islamic jihadists. For his efforts the jihadists harassed and vandalised his radio equipment. Oumarou resisted by posting his articles online. His blog is found at
  • Suren Gazaryan: An environmentalist and opposition activist, this popular blogger distinguished himself by his coverage of environmental issues and corruption linked to the preparation of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. His LiveJournal blog revealed that Sochi’s regional government has built a dacha in the middle of a protected forest. After he was given three-year suspended jail sentences, he fled Russia and sought asylum in Estonia.
  • Cheikh Fall: Website project leader, blogger and voracious Twitter poster, Cheikh Fall is the founder of Sunu2012, a participative website that was created to monitor Senegal’s 2012 presidential election. The website provided information about the candidates, their programmes, their positions on key issues and how they or their campaign staff could be contacted.
  • Huynh Ngoc Chenh: This blogger challenges his communist leaders by writing about democracy, human rights and anti-Chinese demonstrations over the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Censors often block his site, forcing Vietnamese internet readers to resort to VPN connections. Police keep him under constant surveillance and tap his phone.

We are proud to work with Reporters Without Borders. Above all, we salute the courage of men and women around the globe who fight every day for a fundamental right: freedom of information.

Today, the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg will hear arguments in a case that aims to determine whether search engines can be ordered to block search results that link to valid, legal content on Spanish newspaper and government websites.

Over the years, we have consistently stood up for the principle that where legal online content is concerned, only the publisher of that content can make the decision, or be ordered, to remove content from the web.

In the case before the CJEU today - one that is representative of around 180 similar Spanish cases - Google declined to comply with an order from the Spanish Data Protection Authority. We were asked to remove links from our search results that point to a legal notice published in a newspaper. The notice, announcing houses being auctioned off as part of a legal proceeding, is required under Spanish law and includes factually correct information that is still publicly available on the newspaper’s website.

There are clear societal reasons why this kind of information should be publicly available. People shouldn't be prevented from learning that a politician was convicted of taking a bribe, or that a doctor was convicted of malpractice. The substantive question before the Court today is whether search engines should be obliged to remove links to valid legal material that still exists online.

We believe the answer to that question is "no". Search engines point to information that is published online - and in this case to information that had to be made public, by law. In our view, only the original publisher can take the the decision to remove such content. Once removed from the source webpage, content will disappear from a search engine's index.

Of course, there will also be times when information is published online that is subsequently found by a court to be incorrect, defamatory or otherwise illegal. Such content can be removed from the source website and from search engines. But search engines should not be subject to censorship of legitimate content for the sake of privacy - or for any other reason.

The Internet is the world’s biggest economic and social success story of the past three decades, fueling free expression on an unprecedented scale. Built from the bottom-up, powered by the people, private business, technical experts, civil society groups and governments all have joined together to write an amazing narrative. Yet this construction is now under threat. Many governments want to impose government control over the Net, and many are attempting to use the United Nations to achieve this goal.

Fortunately, many parts of the UN are pushing back, and standing up for freedom. The UN’s Internet Government Forum brings together the various Internet actors and represents arguably, the key part of the Internet’s bottom-up structure. Another key UN ally is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which from February 25-27 is holding an important conference in Paris called World Summit on the Information Society +10.

Up to 800 representatives from governments, civil society and private business are attending UNESCO’s conference, which will review the state of Internet freedom in advance of a head-of-state event scheduled for 2015. Hundreds of others will participate from remote locations, thanks to Internet connections. Google is supporting the conference and will be participating in the various panels and debates.

Each session will produce a set of recommendations. A drafting group will distill the main points from the recommendations. Crucially, the final document will not be negotiated by governments but developed through an open-ended multi-stakeholder conference.

UNESCO itself has proved a steadfast ally in the battle to keep the Internet free and open. Each year, it sponsors the World Press Freedom Award. Last year, Google supported the event which took place in post-revolution Tunisia. Within the UN system, UNESCO supports the multi-stakeholder system, insisting that non-governmental organizations be consulted and engaged in Internet decision-making. We look forward to the debates this week in Paris and hope the results bolster the free and open Internet.

Reporters Without Borders latest report on press freedom makes for frightening reading. More than ever, the group says governments around globe are silencing journalists, censoring their articles, or worse, jailing or even assassinating them.

Google has worked with Reporters Without Borders for several years now, supporting their activities in favour of keeping the Internet free and open. So it was natural that we would appear in Madrid at the Spanish presentation of their new report.

Photo credits: Quim Lienas

While most attention these days in Spain focuses on the country’s economic crisis, the Reporters Without Borders event demonstrated a strong attachment to freedom. Some 100 reporters attended and coverage emphasized how 2012 saw a major crackdown on the press around the globe. Panelists included Epiphanie Ndekerumukobwahe, the widow of an assassinated Rwandan journalist, and Nedim Senar, a Turkish journalist who was jailed for his exposés on the army’s plot to overthrow the government.

We were the only private company in attendance and spoke about how the open and free Internet has come under attack. Google’s products - from search and Blogger to YouTube and Docs - have been blocked in more than 30 of the 150 countries where we offer our services. At least 17 countries have cut off YouTube at one time or another and it remains off limits today in China, Iran, and more recently, Pakistan. And, of course, there is our experience in 2010 in China ­­ where a steady and measurable increase in censorship in every medium, including the Internet, ultimately led to our decision to stop providing a local search engine.

Our work with Reporters Without Borders continues in the coming weeks with the hosting of the “Netizen of the Year” award ceremony in Paris. We look forward to updating you on this exciting activity shortly.

Cross-posted with the Official Google Blog

Today, January 28, is Data Privacy Day, when the world recognizes the importance of preserving your online privacy and security.

If it’s like most other days, Google—like many companies that provide online services to users—will receive dozens of letters, faxes and emails from government agencies and courts around the world requesting access to our users’ private account information. Typically this happens in connection with government investigations.

It’s important for law enforcement agencies to pursue illegal activity and keep the public safe. We’re a law-abiding company, and we don’t want our services to be used in harmful ways. But it’s just as important that laws protect you against overly broad requests for your personal information.

To strike this balance, we’re focused on three initiatives that I’d like to share, so you know what Google is doing to protect your privacy and security.

First, for several years we have advocated for updating laws like the U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act, so the same protections that apply to your personal documents that you keep in your home also apply to your email and online documents. We’ll continue this effort strongly in 2013 through our membership in the Digital Due Process coalition and other initiatives.

Second, we’ll continue our long-standing strict process for handling these kinds of requests. When government agencies ask for our users’ personal information—like what you provide when you sign up for a Google Account, or the contents of an email—our team does several things:

  • We scrutinize the request carefully to make sure it satisfies the law and our policies. For us to consider complying, it generally must be made in writing, signed by an authorized official of the requesting agency and issued under an appropriate law.
  • We evaluate the scope of the request. If it’s overly broad, we may refuse to provide the information or seek to narrow the request. We do this frequently.
  • We notify users about legal demands when appropriate so that they can contact the entity requesting it or consult a lawyer. Sometimes we can’t, either because we’re legally prohibited (in which case we sometimes seek to lift gag orders or unseal search warrants) or we don’t have their verified contact information.
  • We require that government agencies conducting criminal investigations use a search warrant to compel us to provide a user’s search query information and private content stored in a Google Account—such as Gmail messages, documents, photos and YouTube videos. We believe a warrant is required by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure and overrides conflicting provisions in ECPA.

And third, we work hard to provide you with information about government requests. Today, for example, we’ve added a new section to our Transparency Report that answers many questions you might have. And last week we released data showing that government requests continue to rise, along with additional details on the U.S. legal processes—such as subpoenas, court orders and warrants—that government use to compel us to provide this information.

We’re proud of our approach, and we believe it’s the right way to make sure governments can pursue legitimate investigations while we do our best to protect your privacy and security.