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 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
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!
January 26, 2006: McCullagh,
Court date set for Google lawsuit, ZDNet:
"Google's attempt to fend off the government's request for millions of
search terms will move to a federal court in San Jose, Calif., on Feb. 27."
January 26, 2006: Kreye,
US-Regierung vs. Google, Süddeutsche Zeitung:
"Die amerikanische Regierung hat einen Drang zur absoluten Kontrolle."
January 19, 2006:
Google widersetzt sich US-Regierung, intern.de:
"In den letzten Jahren hat sich Google häufig sehr zugänglich für die
Wünsche und Bedürfnisse staatlicher Stellen oder auch ziviler Kläger