As we near the United States’ Independence Day holiday, which celebrates our country and its founding principles, I find it interesting that Google and Twitter have recently issued “takedown reports” that detail government requests for user information, and requests to remove content. These requests range from simple copyright violations (i.e. someone posting a clip from a movie) to requests related to criminal investigations, to requests to remove “politically offensive” information. Twitter, who released their first report yesterday, indicates that the US is responsible for nearly 80% of these requests, far above the second place United Kingdom, which originated a paltry 1.2% of these information requests on Twitter users. Google’s statistics tell a similar story.
It’s obviously ironic that a country priding itself on freedom and individual liberty has a government that’s 75 times more likely to demand information about its citizens than the nearest competitor. More frightening from an IT industry perspective is the threat this represents to innovation. The U.S. has a proud tradition of unknown tinkers building businesses like HP and Apple, literally from a corner of their garage. Innovation requires risk, consideration, and rule breaking, attributes that are cultivated and thrive in free and open societies. With storm clouds like constant patent wars and government censorship, I hope the 4th of July holiday reminds us that innovation truly requires freedom in order to thrive.