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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Bush Wants Private Google Data

[Big Brother is Watching You Dept.]

Please sit down. Thanks. Now look at what Howard Mintz of Mercury News is writing on January 18:

“The Bush administration on Wednesday asked a federal judge to order Google Inc. to turn over a broad range of material from its closely guarded databases.”

Shocked? Scared? Disgusted? But wait, there’s more:

“In court papers filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Justice Department lawyers revealed that Google has refused to comply with a subpoena issued last year for the records, which include a request for one million random Web addresses and records of all Google searches from any one-week period.”

Now, there’s a reason the Bush administration wants to violate your privacy. According to Mercury News, the data is requested in an “effort to revive an Internet child protection law struck down two years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court.” This particular law is supposed to punish porn sites which don’t sufficiently protect their entrance, thus allowing kids to view them. Apparently, the government argues it needs the private Google logs to tell how often porn shows up in everyday searches (duh).

On a side note, I don’t understand why Howard Mintz in a later part of that article talks about “child porn,” as a child looking at porn has nothing to do with child porn.

Also, according to Mercury News, the government said while Google didn’t hand over the information, “other, unspecified search engines” did agree to release it. (Who’s that? Yahoo? A9? MSN? Amazon book search? Ask Jeeves?)

I only have a single source so far for this report, and it surely seems to be from an alternate, nightmarish reality. But if Mercury News is right, then we happen to be living in this alternate reality as well.

While surely everyone agrees that a child looking at porn is a rather bad thing, and the current government request does not necessarily seem to want any data which would connect a specific person to a search, handing out such logs could be setting an incredibly bad precedent. So bad that Google should do everything in its power to fight even the smallest attempts at such demands. And if its own power doesn’t suffice, everyone else might feel inclined to jump in to help out as well.

[Thanks Siggi Becker.]

Update: I’ve asked Google for a statement. Nicole Wong, Google associate general counsel, says: “Google is not a party to this lawsuit and their demand for information overreaches. We had lengthy discussions with them to try to resolve this, but were not able to and we intend to resist their motion vigorously. “

Update 2: So, who was it that gave away the data upon request? According to ZDnet, who’s quoting an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, those were Microsoft and AOL (who fully complied) as well as Yahoo (who complied in parts). ZDnet writes that a Microsoft spokesperson said, “MSN works closely with law enforcement officials worldwide to assist them when requested ... It is our policy to respond to legal requests in a very responsive and timely manner in full compliance with applicable law.”

According to the motion filed [PDF], Google was first supposed to hand over all queries entered between June 1, 2005, and July 31, 2005 inclusive. This was then narrowed down to a demand for every single search entered into Google over a one-week period (without specific information that could connect the searches to a person).

Furthermore, Google was asked to provide a list of URLs of all pages in its index. Later, this was narrowed down to a random 1 million URLs. The subpoena states that from that set, the government would be able “to draw conclusions as to the prevalence of harmful-to-minors material on the portion of the Internet that is retrievable through search engines.”


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