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 1984 is now! Google fights US Government

Google, America Online, Microsoft and Yahoo have received demands from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to turn over data on exactly what words and phrases their users were typing into the companies' respective search engines over a one-week period. According to the government, the data —which does not include customers' names or their PCs' IP addresses—is needed to help it fight a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in an effort to stop the administration from reviving the controversial COPA (Child Online Protection Act), which prohibits Web site operators from posting sexually explicit content that could be harmful to minors, unless minors cannot access the content. According to the DOJ, the records could bolster its argument that a federal law is more effective than filtering software when it comes to restricting access by children under the age of 18 to pornographic content on the internet. Microsoft and Yahoo have admitted to complying, at least in part, with the subpoenas, AOL has turned over a limited amount of data. Only Google has decided to fight the DOJ's demands. Google Inc. co-founder Sergey Brin said Google will fight the U.S. government for as long as it takes to avoid handing over information on user searches.

The department's request to force Google to comply with the subpoena is pending before a federal judge in California. So now it is up to the U.S. District Judge James Ware to rule over the privacy and civil liberties concerns raised by the collection. A March 13 hearing has been set in the case. 

The government has not yet requested or obtained any personally identifiable information from search engines - at least to the knowledge of the public - but it might be only a question of time, if Google does not prevail in court. Privacy concerns are not the most important issues for the US government today. Just recently we saw the disclosure that the Bush administration is using the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on calls made by U.S. citizens—an action that many believe is in violation of the Constitution. This is simply the latest in a long line of morally and legally ambiguous efforts to investigate every little corner of Americans' lives. Can users of search engines still expect privacy when they use them?

Much is at stake for Google: According to a poll a majority of those surveyed believe Google should not release information to the government about its users' search habits, and more than a third said they would even stop using the world's most popular search engine if the company did so!





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