YouTube's refusal to remove a video depicting policy violence raises questions about YouTube's responsibility as an archive of public interest content, and also the limits of its ability to challenge government takedown requests.
Summary: Google began documenting government requests for content removal in 2009. Periodic transparency reports informed users about demands made by government agencies, breaking requests down by country and targeted service (YouTube, Google search, Blogspot, etc.)
In October 2011, the section dealing with US government agency requests included a note indicating Google had refused a questionable demand to take down a YouTube video.
We received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove YouTube videos of police brutality, which we did not remove. Separately, we received requests from a different local law enforcement agency for removal of videos allegedly defaming law enforcement officials. We did not comply with those requests, which we have categorized in this Report as defamation requests.
News coverage about the unusual request pointed out YouTube's value as an archive of public interest recordings. Later reports issued by Google added the name of the law enforcement agency: the Greensboro Police Department -- one that apparently has a history of officers deploying excessive force.
This isn't the only time Google has rejected an apparent effort to remove content that does not reflect well on the agency making the request. Subsequent reports show Google has rejected government requests targeting recordings of abuse of inmates by corrections officers, articles detailing a police officer's work history, videos containing information about a law enforcement investigation, and five requests to remove videos that "criticized local and state government agencies."
Decisions to be made by Google:
Questions and policy implications to consider:
Resolution: As noted in Google's transparency report, the targeted video was not taken down. This initial oddity was followed by other questionable requests over the years. Following this showdown with a local law enforcement agency, Google began highlighting requests that "may be of public interest," allowing users to gain more insight into questionable government activities, as well as similarly-notable requests made by private citizens and businesses.
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