Google has been served with more than 70 orders to remove online content by New Zealand's Government and courts, the tech giant's transparency report reveals.

The requests, for which in-depth data has been kept by the Silicon Valley-based company since 2009, have come for myriad reasons, including, privacy and security, defamation, copyright infringements, impersonations and harassment.

The report, examined by the Herald after its latest update at the end of May, shows 73 requests for removal have been made since 2009.

A total of 290 individual online items were listed as part of those requests.

Advertisement

Worldwide, 35,786 removal requests were made by governments to the Californian business last year - a large rise from the fewer than 2000 requests at the start of the decade.

The figures come after the Herald and the Times of London reported Google's uneasy relationship with the courts, suppressed material, and its willingness to follow judicial orders to remove content.

In the latest recorded six-month period, from last July to December, seven New Zealand requests were made for removal for defamation, one for harassment, and one for copyright.

Of those requests, seven came from the judiciary and two from the Government.

In the six months prior, until the end of June last year, five requests were made from the Government to remove content from Google web searches and YouTube, which is owned by Google.

In 2016, seven requests were made - four from the courts and three from the Government.

Those requests included 119 pieces of content that were seen to be defamatory. A blogger's content appearing in the search engine's results was also targeted with a request for removal.

Google would not comment on the transparency report, the details of the requests, or which requests had resulted in content being removed.

Advertisement

But the report states: "Prior to releasing the first online transparency report in the history of the web, Google struggled with overly broad government requests for users' information, and stood out as one of the few companies to resist such requests."

The judiciary also did not wish to address its relationship with Google.

However, members of New Zealand's legal fraternity have expressed a discontent over Google seemingly "thumbing its nose" at court orders to remove content.

The Times also found internet users were able to identify rape victims with a Google search, despite their anonymity being protected by law.

Google's automated search functions and its algorithm would find names associated with a search, the investigation found. The links were often made after people illegally published the identities of those in cases on social media.

Herald journalists have also found the same problems for New Zealand cases, which are bound by similar laws.

Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson's view of the issue.
Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson's view of the issue. "No-one is above the law . . . Well, apart from God of course." Cartoon / Rod Emmerson

However, a Google spokesman earlier told the Herald: "We don't allow these kinds of autocomplete predictions or related searches that violate laws or our own policies and we have removed examples we've been made aware of.

"We recently expanded our removals policy to cover predictions which disparage victims of violence and atrocities, and we encourage people to send us feedback about any sensitive or bad predictions."

Despite Google's assurances, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner said in a statement after the Herald's story that it was of "considerable concern" to the judiciary and Parliament if any organisation was unwilling to follow court orders.

The Google spokesman also said Google LLC prefers for news publishers to "make their own decisions about whether their content should be available online".

Google NZ was bound by New Zealand laws but Google LLC was not, he explained.

Wellington human rights and privacy lawyer Michael Bott said that when court orders weren't adhered to there was a potential to infringe on statutory and fair trial rights.

He said Google was "expressing a high-degree of arrogance" at some court orders.

"In a liberal democracy we have the rule of law. If Google doesn't follow take-down orders on the basis that it's an international company based in California, well that may be true, but it also ignores the reality of the internet," he said.

"It's a direct attack on the sovereignty of our courts and there has to be a way to address that."