Friday, February 17, 2006


SJMN: Google rips Bush administration's search request

By Elise Ackerman -- San Jose Mercury News, posted Feb. 17

Google called the Bush administration's request for data on Web searches as "so uninformed as to be nonsensical'' in papers filed in San Jose federal court Friday, arguing that turning over the information would expose its trade secrets and violate the privacy of its users.

The 21-page brief filed by the Mountain View search giant angrily dissected the government's claim that the search results would produce useful evidence regarding child pornography.

The Justice Department asked a federal judge to force Google to turn over the data last month, after Google refused to comply with an earlier subpoena. Government lawyers said the searches would help it defend the Child Online Protection Act, which was struck down as unconstitutional. The law is designed to keep children from sexually explicit material on the Internet.

The Justice Department has a week to submit a written response. A hearing is scheduled for March 13 in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

Google's struggle with the Justice Department has focused worldwide attention on the risk that Internet technologies will be used by governments for surveillance purposes -- and that the privacy of users could be compromised without their ever knowing it.

In justification of its demand of data from Google, the Justice Department revealed that it had requested -- and received -- similar data from Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL.

Google's resistance to the U.S. government has won the company praise from many of the people who use its service. At the same time, its stance toward the Justice Department subpoena has been contrasted with the company's recent decision to roll out a Chinese-language search service that complies with Chinese government censorship requirements.

Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco Systems came under withering criticism for their actions in China at a congressional hearing earlier this week.

While the government did not ask Google for information relating to the identity of its users, Google said people sometimes search for their social security numbers or for their credit card numbers or other personal data.

"What will the government do with this information?'' Google asked.

The ACLU also filed a 10-page brief supporting Google on Friday, saying that the government's explanation regarding why it needed the searches was "too vague'' to justify a court order.

"The government is not entitled to go on a fishing expedition through millions of Google searches any time it wants, just because it claims it needs that information,'' ACLU staff attorney Aden Fine wrote in a statement. "Google has rightly denied the government's demand.''

In its brief, Google argued that simply knowing the Web addresses that exist in Google's index would not enable the government to determine which contained pornographic material since the content of a Web page can change every day. While Google's records would not help the government make its case for the law, it could help Google's competitors gain access to the company's confidential query data.

Google described the lengths it goes to protect its search algorithms from competitors, including not disclosing the number of computers it uses to run the search engine, the number of queries processed in a day, the type of browsers those queries are entered on and the nature of the search strings people type in. "The very fact that the Government is so uninformed about the value of search and URL information and so dismissive of Google's interest in protecting it speaks volumes about why the Court should protect Google from this compelled disclosure,'' the company wrote.

Source-Full story: San Jose Mercury News.

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