Judge indicates Google must turn over some data
GOV'T SCALES BACK SCOPE OF CONTROVERSIAL REQUEST AT JUDGE'S INSTRUCTION
By Howard Mintz Mercury News
A San Jose federal judge indicated today that he plans to order Google
to relinquish at least some of its closely guarded data to the federal
government, in large part because the Bush administration has
dramatically limited the scope of its controversial request.
In a nearly two-hour hearing, U.S. District Judge James Ware peppered
lawyers for Google and the Justice Department with questions and
concerns about the government's demand for a random sample of Web
sites and searches that has triggered a showdown over Internet privacy
rights. The government sought the data to support its defense of a law
designed to shield children from adult content on the Internet.
The government originally asked Google for 1 million random Web
addresses and a week's worth of random search queries to assemble a
study on the prevalence of sexually explicit material on the Internet
and the effectiveness of Web filters in screening such material from
minors. The company resisted the demand, arguing that it would expose
its vault of online search habits to improper government scrutiny and
threaten the privacy rights of its users.
But lawyers disclosed today that the government now seeks 50,000 Web
sites and 5,000 Web searches for its study, prompting Google lawyers
to concede that the demand is less of a burden. After the hearing,
Nicole Wong, a general counsel for Google, said the government has
moved 'a long way' from its initial demand.
However, Google attorney Albert Gidari still urged Ware to reject the
request, saying the data was 'irrelevant' to studying Web filters and
online pornography. American Civil Liberties Union lawyers, who are
challenging the online child protection law in federal court in
Philadelphia, also objected to handing the data to the government.
During the hearing, however, Ware said he is likely to 'grant some
relief' to the government, probably focused on ordering the company to
provide some data on random Web addresses.
The judge said he was far more concerned about releasing information
that might reveal the individual search habits of Google users,
expressing worry about the public's perception 'the government might
be plying through the database to figure out what is going on.' The
judge said "I have instructed the government to work with Google on a
more realistic plan of action; the attornies for Google and the
government approached me earlier Tuesday with a compromise solution
they seemed to find agreeable; greatly scaled down from what the
government had originally demanded. I suggest the government has some
legitimate concerns here; I will give them some of what they want,
but will not permit them to simply 'go fishing' as Google and others
Ware said he would issue a final ruling 'very soon.'
The dispute erupted in January, when the Justice Department subpoenaed
Google's data to assist in its defense of the Child Online Protection
Act, which was put on hold two years ago by the U.S. Supreme
Court. Google, backed by privacy rights advocates, resisted releasing
the information, arguing that it violates the privacy rights of its
users and threatens to expose the company's trade secrets.
Other search engines, such as Yahoo and America Online, have complied
with the government's request; Google kept refusing, and it would now
appear to have gained some concessions for having done so.
Contact Howard Mintz at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 286-0236.
Copyright 2006 MercuryNews.com and wire service sources.