Saturday, March 18, 2006

Google Wins in Court Fight

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge James Ware issued his formal ruling in the case of the Justice Department versus Google.

You will recall that, on Tuesday, Judge James Ware heard both sides in the government's attempt to force Google to comply with a subpoena to turn over data from its search engine (see my blogs on 3/10 and 3/15 for more information).

The Justice Department had served Google with a subpoena last summer, demanding a massive amount of data regarding both the websites it indexes as well as the search strings its users enter into the search engine. This information was supposed to help the Justice Department in its quest to fight child pornography.

While, on the surface, this seems like a worthwhile cause, in actuality, the Justice Department is seeking to shore up its case in another Federal court for a bad law. The Supreme Court has already sent numerous administrations back to the drawing board on this law (COPA--the Child Online Protection Act) since it was first enacted in October, 1998.

Instead of acknowledging that it is the law that needs to be changed, the Bush administration sought to force AOL, Yahoo, MSN and Google to provide data to support that law. AOL, Yahoo and MSN yielded to the Justice Department last year. Google refused and ended up in Judge Ware's court.

Keep in mind that the Justice Department has already acknowledged that it has the information it requires for the court case it is pursuing in Philadelphia to defend COPA. One suspects that it was Google's refusal to fall in line that prompted this case in California.

Judge Ware dealt the government a substantial blow in his written ruling yesterday. According to Yahoo News, the judge issued a 21-page ruling in which he told Google to give the Justice Department by April 3 the website addresses of 50,000 randomly selected Web sites. That's right. Just any old 50,000 URLs off the Internet.

Yahoo says: "Ware though decided Google won't have to disclose what people have been looking for on its widely used search engine, handing a significant victory to the company and privacy rights advocates."

Nicole Wong, Associate General Counsel for Google, posted a message on the official Google website ( In part, her message read:

"The government's original request demanded billions of URLs and two month's worth of users' search queries. Google resisted the subpoena, prompting the judge's order today. In addition to excluding search queries from the subpoena, Judge James Ware also required the government to limit its demand for URLs to 50,000. We will fully comply with the judge's order.

"This is a clear victory for our users and for our company, and Judge Ware's decision regarding search queries is especially important. This is a clear victory for our users...While privacy was not the most significant legal issue in this case, privacy was perhaps the most significant to our users.

"We will always be subject to government subpoenas, but the fact that the judge sent a clear message about privacy is reassuring. What his ruling means is that neither the government nor anyone else has carte blanche when demanding data from Internet companies. When a party resists an overbroad subpoena, our legal process can be an effective check on such demands and be a protector of our users."

Thumbs up to Judge Ware and especially to Google for resisting the U.S. Justice Department on this issue.

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