Google Blogoscoped

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Search Privacy: Could the Government Take the Next Step?

[Big Brother is Watching You Dept.]

As you may have heard by now, several search engines – including Microsoft’s – handed over search logs to the US government. The official MSN blog on the issue writes (my emphasis):

“The applicable parties to the case received this data, and the parties agreed that the information specific to this case would remain confidential. Specifically, we produced a random sample of pages from our index and some aggregated query logs that listed queries and how often they occurred. Absolutely no personal data was involved.”

Google-watcher Daniel Brandt in the forum – in reply to my post on that the government’s demand is not about child porn, to which Daniel agrees – writes:

“Yes, it’s about children getting exposed to porn because filtering doesn’t work well. But, even if the newspapers misreported this, it’s rather a lucky mistake. Think of it as a “Freudian slip.” The government gets millions of search terms, and then is in a position to find a bunch where someone is actually looking for child porn. [Since] this is already illegal, the next step is to subpoena for the cookie ID and IP address of these specific searches. You’ve got your foot in the door already, you’ve got specific evidence that people are looking for child porn, and you’ve got the law behind you, so what’s to stop the feds from taking the next step?”

Now I’m sure something like “how to build a bomb” or other queries appear in MSN, Yahoo and Google frequently. So I asked new law expert Lawrence Lessig; is this true, does the government have the legal right to go to the search engine to ask for the IP (and/ or user account) of seemingly illegal queries found? Here’s his answer:

“Yep. It is a basic principle of criminal law: if the cops are legitimately in your house, and happen to see an illegal gun, the fact they were not there to find a gun doesn’t matter. [Y]ou’re toast.”


Blog  |  Forum     more >> Archive | Feed | Google's blogs | About


This site unofficially covers Google™ and more with some rights reserved. Join our forum!