View Full Version : Google says no to (government) data request

01-20-2006, 07:24 AM
Google says no to data request
Government wants records of searches

Verne Kopytoff, Chronicle Staff Writer

Watch what you search for on the Internet. It could come back to haunt you.

That point was hammered home in recent court filings by the federal government demanding that the Internet's major search engines turn over vast amounts of data about what people have searched for.

Mountain View's Google, the industry leader, has promised to fight the order, which is part of the Bush administration's effort to resuscitate laws protecting children from Internet pornography, blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago.

Yahoo and Microsoft have complied with the request, turning over millions of search queries to the government, although both firms insist they did not violate their users' privacy.

The government's request and Google's subsequent refusal set up a potential court battle that could have major privacy implications for Internet users and also could help define how online companies protect their customers in future inquiries.

If the government prevails against Google, privacy advocates fear that the floodgates will open to even more demands for search data. Ultimately, they say, the snooping would have a chilling effect on how people use the Internet.

"If the government wins, it will continue pushing for more information from Google, and so will private parties," said Kurt Opsahl, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that advocates online privacy. "People could be deterred from seeking out information that that they need because of the fear of Big Brother looking over their shoulder."

In papers filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, the Department of Justice said Google had failed to comply with a subpoena issued last year for a sample of 1 million Web addresses in the company's index. In addition, the government wanted a list of all search terms entered by Google's users over a one-week period.

Google argues that the demand is overly broad, costly and could reveal trade secrets. Nicole Wong, an associate general counsel for Google, added in a statement that after lengthy discussions with the Justice Department to resolve the issue, "we intend to resist their motion vigorously."

Privacy advocates long have suspected that search records would become a target of legal interest, as e-mails already are and music downloading histories have become. However, this is the first time privacy advocates remember that anyone has requested search data for a legal proceeding.

Companies behind search engines retain vast amounts of information, including records of user queries and numeric IP address of computers from which the queries were submitted. With a little leg work and legal authority, attorneys often can trace the queries to specific individuals.

In its filings this week, the government -- bowing to privacy concerns -- emphasized that it was seeking data stripped of any information identifying the people who entered the queries. Privacy advocates were concerned nonetheless.

They said that searches of full names or addresses would show up in the data. What if, they asked, the queries also included a sensitive term such as "Nazi sympathizer," "homosexual" or "terrorist?"

"I certainly imagine some searches, even if divorced from a person's identity, could easily reveal confidential information that is not clear that the D.O.J. should have access to," said John Morris, staff counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington, D.C., public policy group.

In just a few years, search engines have blossomed into almost a necessity for some people. Few people think twice about using them to track down information of all kinds. Google, in particular, has ridden the wave to become the dominant force in the industry, owning nearly 40 percent of the U.S. market.

In its court filings, the government said it had sent subpoenas similar to Google's to other search companies, which had no problem providing the requested data. In response to a reporter's question, Mary Osako, a spokeswoman for Yahoo Inc., in Sunnyvale, said her firm was among them.

"We complied on a limited basis and did not provide any personally identifiable information," she said, declining to offer more details.

Microsoft's MSN Web portal said it had complied with the government's request but also said it had withheld personal information. Ask Jeeves, in Oakland, said it did not receive a subpoena.

The Bush administration hopes to use the search engine data it collects to defend the Child Online Protection Act in a Pennsylvania federal court. The law, intended to protect children from being exposed to sexually explicit Internet material, was blocked by the Supreme Court from being enforced on grounds that it was too broad and violated freedom of expression.

In its filing, the government asserted that the search information will help it establish that the law is "more effective than filtering software in protecting minors from exposure to harmful materials on the Internet." Because Google is the most popular search engine, its data would be valuable for producing an overall sample of search queries, the government said.

As part of their privacy policies, virtually all search engines tell users that search histories will be turned over to law enforcement as required. However, privacy advocates noted that few people actually read the policies and are therefore unaware that their queries could be scrutinized.

David Holtzman, author of an upcoming book about privacy and onetime chief technology officer of Network Solutions, a domain name registry, recommended that search engines rethink how much user information they retain to avoid situations such as the one Google and others are in now.

On the other hand, companies often boast of the data they collect, which they call particularly useful in providing customized search results for users and targeted advertising.

"If you don't have the information, nobody can subpoena it," Holtzman said.

web page (http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/01/20/GOOGLE.TMP)

01-20-2006, 11:23 AM
I've always used Yahoo to search for anything, but Google has my vote now just because they have the backbone to resist. The gov need not filter every Tom-Dick-Mary in what they search for. They should target the porn servers directly if anything, not the whole of the American public. That's way too invasive and totally more of a broad use of power...sid

Rich R.
01-20-2006, 11:27 AM
<blockquote><font class="small">Quote Sid_Vicious:</font><hr> I've always used Yahoo to search for anything, but Google has my vote now just because they have the backbone to resist. The gov need not filter every Tom-Dick-Mary in what they search for. They should target the porn servers directly if anything, not the whole of the American public. That's way too invasive and totally more of a broad use of power...sid <hr /></blockquote>
I agree with you Sid. Although the users are not innocent, it is the providers that deserve the government attention.

Gayle in MD
01-20-2006, 12:20 PM
Thanks for the info...Well, I will just never Yahoo again, never ever, unless GWB gets impeached, that is, /ccboard/images/graemlins/tongue.gif

Gayle in Md.

01-20-2006, 01:41 PM
If it were a search strictly for what the Supreme Court has said is not protected by right to privacy laws,then I favor the Governments request. But I don't think their request can stand up,and is another waste of money. Who cares about pornography from the great deal I have watched, its kind of boring /ccboard/images/graemlins/grin.gif

01-20-2006, 03:14 PM
<blockquote><font class="small">Quote Sid_Vicious:</font><hr>They should target the porn servers directly if anything, not the whole of the American public. ...sid
<hr /></blockquote>

<font color="blue"> Sid,

Respectfully, Why should they target the porn sites? Is this some new threat to our security. I'd rather see them target the Islamic pron sites if anything. /ccboard/images/graemlins/smirk.gif </font color>


01-20-2006, 04:46 PM
you mean the ones that show the women, without their veils???

Hey, over there can you be married to an ugly woman, and never know it?

01-21-2006, 07:41 AM
<blockquote><font class="small">Quote wolfdancer:</font><hr> you mean the ones that show the women, without their veils???

Hey, over there can you be married to an ugly woman, and never know it? <hr /></blockquote>

<font color="blue">Yeah! Seeing those eyes peeping out of the veil, just a big turn-on. I guess I get lit up over seeing skin that has never seen the light of day and a large collection of body hair that has never seen Nair. /ccboard/images/graemlins/blush.gif

No, they do have some Islamic women porn sites. How do i know this? Research. I was looking for that old picture saying "What we are fighting for, what they are fighting for" and ran across them. It was, indeed, frightening.

Deeman</font color>

Fran Crimi
01-23-2006, 07:11 AM
Let's get real here for a minute. Google isn't suddenly taking any "moral" stand here. Google is concerned about protecting Google.

Let me give you an example of how Google "PROTECTS" people.

Someone alerted me to this several months ago...Several months ago, if you did a search on my and a few other BCA Master Instructor names, the names would pop up on the right side of the Google search results...the side where people PAY Google to have their websites appear in search results. Well, if you clicked on my or any of their names, lo and behold, you would find yourself at some other pool instructor's website where none of our names are mentioned at all. (We took care of it. That's not happening anymore, but who knows how long that may have been going on?) Apparently, as long as you pay Google, you can do just about anything you want, including steal someone else's identity. For the right price, Google allows you to list any words you want to associate with your website, including people's names.

So, don't kid yourselves...Google isn't taking any moral high ground here...by complying with subpeonas like that, they could potentially open themselves up for investigation in other areas---Areas that perhaps may give them some problems. Picture yourself doing a search on one thing, clicking on it and finding yourself someplace else. Google's search result data would clearly be skewed and inaccurate. And when compared with data from other search engines, they could easily be red-flagging themselves.

I'd be more inclined to trust the other search engines who didn't have a problem complying with the subpeonas while protecting the identities of the searchers.

How would you like to see a child doing research for school who suddenly finds himself at a porn site because he googled the name "George Washington?" It could happen with Google.