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Google Blasts "Uninformed" Justice Department

David A. Utter
Staff Writer
Published: 2006-02-17

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A legal brief filed with the US District Court in San Jose by Google's attorneys criticized the Department of Justice prosecutors involved in the federal government's grab for Google's search records.

At a certain level of business, long billable hours and lengthy legal papers have to take the place of expedient communications, even in the 21st Century. Thus, while Google may wish to dash off a quick email to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his West Coast prosecutors that says, "Here's a 25-cent Google Payment; buy a clue about search," certain protocols have to be followed.

Declan McCullagh reported on the brief submitted by Google's attorneys from the Perkins Coie law firm. In the brief, Google reiterated its contention that complying with the subpoena would expose trade secrets and violate user privacy.

Google didn't stop there. It accused federal prosecutors of having a "cavalier attitude" and said they were "uninformed" about just how search engines work. The article provided an excerpt from the brief submitted to the court (spacing added for clarity):

"If Google is forced to compromise its privacy principles and produce to the Government on such a flimsy request, its search query and URL data, Google will, without a doubt, suffer a loss of trust among users.

Google's success can be attributed in large part to the high volume of Web users attracted to Google.com every day. The privacy and anonymity of the service are major factors in the attraction of users--that is, users trust Google to do right by their personal information and to provide them with the best search results.

If users believe that the text of their search queries into Google's search engine may become public knowledge, it only logically follows that they will be less likely to use the service."

Google's attorneys make what would be a good point if Google were the only search engine in use. But AOL, Yahoo, and MSN have already complied with the federal subpoenas, with MSN and Yahoo both stating no personal information was shared with the feds.

If Google ends up losing its case, they would be in no different a situation than the other three search engines in providing the DOJ with the information it has requested. Right now, Google has the upper hand by fighting the government in court; they maintain the perception that they are standing up for user privacy.

The government has given some credence to Google's privacy stance. McCullagh cited a Newsweek report where a DOJ spokesman told the magazine that if something in the information received under subpoena "raised alarms," it would be handed over to the proper authorities.

However, another DOJ spokesman told McCullagh's publisher, CNet, "as regards that material, that is what it is being used for and that is all," referring to Justice's claim it needs the information to demonstrate to a Pennsylvania court that adult website owners do not go far enough in ensuring their content is not visible to minors, as demonstrated by the search engine results DOJ has requested.

DOJ wants to prove the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act, which was struck down by the Supreme Court. Though the Court suggested DOJ rewrite the legislation, DOJ instead traveled back to the appellate court to try and establish COPA as being constitutional in its current form.

That spurred the subpoenas to the four major search engines in August 2005, an action that only became public when Google's persistent refusal led to the DOJ filing to compel compliance in January 2006.

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About the Author:
David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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