Google subpoena roils the Web
US effort raises privacy issues
By Hiawatha Bray, Globe Staff
The US government's demand for millions of Internet search records
from Google Inc. and other prominent search firms has raised new
questions about the vast amounts of personal information collected by
traced to individuals, Internet privacy activists and some lawmakers
said the action underscored concerns about what the search engines
know about computer users and what could become of that information.
"Internet search engines provide an extraordinary service," said
Representative Edward Markey, a Malden Democrat, "but the
preservation of that service [should] not rely on a bottomless,
timeless database that can do great damage despite good intentions."
Markey said yesterday that he will propose legislation as early as
next month that would force search companies to destroy records
containing personal information after "a reasonable period of time."
Markey said that he'd been working on the legislation since last year,
modeling it on a law that requires cable television firms to destroy
personal data about customers' viewing habits.
Google is vowing to resist efforts by the US Justice Department to
obtain information about the searches run by millions of its users,
even though investigators are seeking aggregate data about Internet
use, not individual users' records. The Justice Department wants the
information as part of its effort to defend the Child Online
Protection Act, a 1998 federal law that seeks to ban Internet sites
from displaying content that the government deems ''harmful to
minors." The Supreme Court has ruled that the law can't be enforced
unless the government shows less intrusive measures such as Internet
filtering are inadequate. The government hopes to use search results
from Google and other companies to show that Internet pornography is
so pervasive that only a federal law can protect children from it.
Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp.'s MSN search service, and Time Warner
Inc.'s AOL service have all agreed to provide the information,
according to a Justice Department spokesman. But Google has refused,
saying that releasing the data would compromise its users' privacy
and the company's trade secrets. "Google is not a party to this
lawsuit and their demand for information overreaches," said Nicole
Wong, Google's associate general counsel. "We intend to resist their