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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Google Searches Used In Court, via Search Engine Land, reports that computer expert Matthew Schuster was sentenced to 15 months in prison for hacking his ex-company, Alpha Computer Services... and he was found guilty partly due to Google searches like “make device interfere wireless network” that were used against him.’s Declan McCullagh writes:

Court documents are ambiguous and don’t reveal how the FBI discovered his search terms. That could have happened in one of three ways: an analysis of his browser’s history and cache; an Alpha employee monitoring the company’s wireless connection; or a subpoena to Google from the police for search terms tied to his Internet address or cookie.

Google has confirmed that it can provide search terms if given an Internet address or Web cookie, but has steadfastly refused to say how often such requests arrive. (Microsoft, on the other hand, told us that it has never received such queries for MSN Search, and AOL says it could not provide the information if asked.)

In this case, an Alpha employee might well have screened the logs, as Matthew used their system to search Google. In other cases, a subpoena to Google is also likely, and we might not be able to ever know when that happens – at least when the government is behind the request. Quote the American Civil Liberties Union:

The National Security Letter (NSL) section of the USA Patriot Act contains a gag provision that prohibits anyone who receives an NSL from “disclos[ing] to any person that the [FBI] has sought or obtained access to information or records.”

Also see the cases of Anurag Johri and Robert James Petrick, both involving Google searches.


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