Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Google Hearing Yesterday

There was news yesterday regarding the federal court hearing in the case of the Justice Department versus Google.

The Justice Department is suing to force Google to turn over data related to searches demanded in a subpoena issued last summer. The search engine giant flatly refused to cooperate with the subpoena. You'll recall I mentioned on Friday that a hearing was scheduled for yesterday in Judge James Ware's U.S. District Court.

According to Yahoo News, Judge Ware said "he intends to order Google Inc. to turn over some of its Internet records to the U.S. Justice Department, but expressed reservations about requiring the company to divulge some of its most sensitive data--the actual requests that people enter into its popular search engine."

The Justice Department was demanding two things: (1) a million random URLs and (2) a million search strings (text only) requested by users during a one-week period without identifying the users. According to C/NET News, "During negotiations, the Justice Department narrowed its request to 50,000 URLs and said it would look at only 10,000. It also said it wanted 5,000 search queries and would look at 1,000."

The judge forced the Justice Department's attorney to admit that the government had already received sufficient data from Yahoo, MSN and AOL to complete its study. However, Judge Ware noted the results of the negotiation (which included the Justice Department's willingness to reimburse Google for its programmers' time) and said he was inclined to partially grant the government's request.

During the 90-minute hearing yesterday, Judge Ware indicated that he wasn't alarmed by the request for random websites indexed by Google. However, he didn't want "to create the perception that Internet search engines and other large online databases could become tools for government surveillance." This would appear to indicate that he is going to be less forthcoming on the Justice Department's request for the search strings.

The judge promised to issue a written ruling soon.

"T. Barton Carter, a communications and law professor at Boston University, said the concerns raised by Ware should be heartening to privacy rights advocates."

C/NET News is running an opinion poll on their website, asking whether the Justice Department should win its request. As of this morning, 900 people had voted and 93.8% of them believe the government should NOT win.

1 comment:

Sherrill Quinn said...

This is heartening, Maya. Let's hope common sense--and an adherence to the spirit of the Constitution--prevails.