February 26, 2006 5:55 PM PST

Feds: Google's privacy concerns unfounded

The U.S. Justice Department has denied requesting anything from Google that could threaten the privacy of the search engine's users, as the company recently contended.

And by trying to block the government's efforts to review a week's worth of search terms, Google is holding up efforts to protect children from pornography, according to a brief filed Friday by the Justice Department.

The Justice Department was responding to Google's legal filing earlier this month, in which the search giant argued that the government's request for 1 million pages from Google's index, as well as copies of a week's worth of search terms, would harm the company in numerous ways.

The information that the Justice Department requested is to be used in a study to help the Bush administration defend the 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA), an Internet pornography law. The government is seeking to highlight flaws in Web-filtering technology during a trial this fall.

Google maintains that complying with the government's request would mean disclosing important trade secrets, take up too many of the company's resources to produce and harm its reputation with users.

The issue has raised red flags among privacy-watchdog groups, which fear that Web sites could be used to spy on Americans or limit their right to free speech. The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging COPA, arguing that Web sites cannot realistically comply with it and that the law violates the right to freedom of speech mandated by the First Amendment.

On Feb. 17, Google issued a strongly worded declaration to the court, criticizing prosecutors for a "cavalier attitude" and questioning their understanding of search-engine technology.

On Friday, the Justice Department said Google's arguments were without merit.

"It should first be noted what is not at issue here," the Justice Department wrote in the 18-page legal brief. "The government has not asked Google to produce any information that would personally identify its users.

"The government seeks this information only to perform a study, in the aggregate, of trends in the Internet. No individual user of Google, or of any other search engine, need fear that his or her personal identifying information will be disclosed."

Google also failed to link the information the government requested to "any supposed trade secrets," the Justice Department said in its brief. As for the costs of complying with the Justice Department's subpoena, the government argued that Google could "comply with the subpoena with relative ease."

The Justice Department noted that Google's competitors--American Online, Yahoo and MSN--gathered the information without much trouble when those companies voluntarily complied with similar requests.

Lastly, the government hung its argument on precedent, saying that the right of the government to obtain information needed to present its case outweighed any of Google's arguments.

"The government has a legitimate need for the disclosure of data that is uniquely in Google's possession," the Justice Department said in its filing. "The balance certainly weighs in favor of disclosure of any alleged trade secrets."

The Justice Department requested that Google be given 21 days in which to comply with the court's order.

Google representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

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60 comments

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The DOJ is full of it.
The problem wasn't that Google was currently being forced to turn over personally identifiable information, but that at some future point they could be forced to do so based on the search information handed over. Indeed one of DOJ's spokes people said if they found anything that raised a flag they'd pursue it. In other words this information could also be used to go on a fishing expedition.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly -- it's a terrible precedent
In a climate where years-secret NSA surveillance of citizens is
vehemently backed by the Attorney General, the DOJ has
squandered the trust we (or I) had in it.
Posted by mgreere (332 comments )
Link Flag
The Primary Question
Why does the government need to view all of Google's search queries for a week's time? Don't they trust Google to provide them with search queries, statistics, and data related only to child porn? Since child porn is clearly a crime, I'm sure that Google would comply with a reasonable request for specified information.

It seems that the government is asking for too much information---to request all of the search queries from Google belies an intention of use, and perhaps a hidden agenda.
Posted by Michael G. (185 comments )
Reply Link Flag
On the Other Hand...
I would like to add to my own comment, that the government doesn't seem to have a solid case---there is no case of predation/seduction of children, when the makers of adult pornography and other items children shouldn't see, have no idea of who is viewing the information, whether that person is a 5-year-old child or a 65-year-old with nothing better to do.

In my prior comment, I meant to say "child predation", not "child porn", as it makes the context more clear. Google nor anyone else on the internet can monitor what children watch from afar. Nor should they be responsible to do so. That is the clear responsibility of parents.
Posted by Michael G. (185 comments )
Link Flag
Nothing to do with child porn
I don't know why people can't understand that this has NOTHING to do with child porn. Child porn is already illegal. As these articles have made clear they have to do with regular(adult porn). The issue is the government believes minors could access it and be harmed by it.

Of course, it's the parents' job to make sure their kid doesn't look at things that are harmful. Get to know your kid, buy a filter if necessary and realize it's your responsibilty not the government's. It's funny how the neocons say the liberals are always wanting the government to play an active role in peoples' lives, and then it's the neocons who decide what is moral and what isn't for the public.

I guess helping the poor and making sure each child gets good education and healthcare don't matter. Their idea of helping people is making sure their fundamentalist religion is shoved down our throats.
Posted by jdbwar07 (150 comments )
Link Flag
Government off in left field.
So the government is concerned that teenagers might find some porn on the internet (vast quantities of it legally produced in places like Denmark, the Netherlands, and former Soviet states).

Lessee, the economy and social fabric of this country is disintegrating due to outsourcing.

Americans cannot travel freely in the world due to Muslim jihadist terrorists.

Given 30 years, we have not figured out how to develop energy from any sources other than coal and oil.

But lets worry about porn. Yeah, right.
Posted by Too Old For IT (351 comments )
Link Flag
Google shouldn't parent children - HYPOCRACY
Google should not have to do the parenting of neglected youths - it is the parents job to censor and prevent their own children form using the internet... by software or other means. The internet can be a safe place to learn if responsible adults supervise their kids access to it... it is what a parent is for. Parents are guilty of neglecting to use common sense, and have become increasingly lazy towards having anything to do with their own childrens best interests. I salute Google's effort in defending the AMERICAN publics most sacred rights and freedoms. Now let's tackle another huge hypocracy (gov-sponsored death = cigarettes and alcohol)these things regulated and taxed by uncle sam are proven killers - yet an herb, marijuana is illegal) ridiculous - America was formed by hemp farmers!
That is one of the most ignorant hypocracy of all times. ok i'm done ranting tyvm :-)
Posted by look_c_here (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If you want to rant, do it on the correct commentary
Although I agree with your assesment of the fact that parents
need to be responsible for what their children do, there are two
caveats I would like to impose:
1). Parents cannot possibly be with their kids 100% of the time
watching their every move.
2). At any rate, a little extra security never hurt.

However, the portion of your ran dealing with alcohol and
tobacco vs. hemp was totally uncalled for and makes you look
like an idiot. If you want to comment on that do it in the correct
venue.

As Far as the DOJ asking for search records and search terms
used, I think that they should give them exactly what they want.
A list consisting of search terms and only search terms as well
as a list of all searches for the specified time period minus IP
addresses, user names, MAC addresses, etc. Just for fun, lets
randomize all of the entries two or three times. At that point the
only thing that the DOJ could get out of it is statistics on what
what was searched for durring the specified time frame. They
would have to go through hell and back to get any kind of order
for futher infomation after that. Inaddition, they can complain
because if all they want are statistics then the order doesn't
matter.
Posted by beubanks7507 (49 comments )
Link Flag
hypocrasy
In 1930 a doctor in the U.S. developed an alcohol that contained the necessary nutrients to metabolize acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is the chemical alcohol makes in the liver, many people convert it to an ascetate and excrete it. Many other people because of geography never developed the ability to metabolize alcohol. Their livers simply don't do it. They are the people who become 'alcoholic', alcohol is poison to them. The acetaldehyde goes into the brain where it does a great deal of damage. Anyway the FDA refused to allow this doctor the right to sell his product. Hadacol. So every poor soul that died of this terrible affliction didn't have too.
I wonder how many people that was in the last 76 years. By adding the nutrients to the alcohol it made it so that acetaldehyde could be metabolized and would help keep the alcoholic from becoming an alcoholic.

30 Years ago the National Cancer Society told everyone that if they took 200 mcg of selenium everyday it would reduce cancer rates by up to 70%
How come the doctors don't tell us this?

Dianne Robinson
Posted by emeraldgate (53 comments )
Link Flag
It is not
The governments job to babysit either, but seems like they somehow find the time to.
Posted by Eskiegirl302 (82 comments )
Link Flag
The government's request lacks method and proven utility. Plus an idea.
The government, as Google has so aptly stated, has not shown how Google can even obtain random search results since the results are tailored to the SafeSearch moderation level, historical searches, etc. So, if Google hands them some random data it, in reality, is not a representative sample. Trash in, trash out: it will simply serve to damage the credibility of any statistical methodology. And the government's claim that it will give away trade secrets is entirely founded because in order for the statistics to have any credibility, the judiciary (hence, the public) must know exactly how Google's search results are compiled. The government has the burden of proof and all they seem to be doing is showing how it doesn't hurt privacy rights under our current laws. That is simply not enough the justice department's request for force.

If this does happen, if Google is forced to give up its data, I think that an open source, P2P search design should be implemented. If one eliminates the central control of search data, it is much less likely that the government can easily intrude and trample privacy rights. Google could design such a framework, it could even be closed-source if they want, but something is needed to eliminate the centralized logging system-to make Google a smaller, less accountable target for prosecution.

Why do you think the government is so consistently in favor of big business? Big businesses offer big targets. It's a lot harder to prosecute 50,000,000 individuals than it is to go after one or a few businesses. Lets use the power of decentralization to our advantage. It has worked well for music trading, it can work well for web caching and searching as well.
Posted by nhandler (79 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Corrections...
"And the _Google's_ claim that it will give away trade secrets is entirely founded because in order for the statistics to have any credibility, the judiciary (hence, the public) must know exactly how Google's search results are compiled. The government has the burden of proof and all they seem to be doing is showing how it doesn't hurt privacy rights under our current laws. That is simply not enough _to warrent_ the justice department's request for force."
Posted by nhandler (79 comments )
Link Flag
please elaborate
You have the air of either a tech-savvy lawyer or law-savvy techy. Whatever the case, you appear to me much more knowledgeable about this than me. So if you could, please explain what exactly is SafeSearch and how would it invalidate a random sample?

But more importantly, how is it that the DOJ can defend the subpoena of aggregate search term frequency for any given interval as being relevant to an investigation into the availability of adult content to minors? It would seem to me that the only valid methodology for obtaining such data without violating privacy would be a random survey.

I must agree that if the data is truly anonymous, its garbage. For instance, if term x is searched for 100 times in any given interval there is no way of knowing if it is one individual searching for the same term 100 times or 100 separate individuals searching for it once, so what good is it? You can not extrapolate that because x is the most frequently searched for term that most internet users search for x, but I bet that is exactly what they will try and do.

Am I getting this right? Is there something to this Im not getting? It would seem to me to be smokescreen to justify more monitoring and censoring of the internet.
Posted by skeptic7 (2 comments )
Link Flag
Good idea
That's a brilliant idea. Too bad there isn't an open-source P2P search engine. Philosophically, it could be founded on the principles of anonymity and freedom from censorship. On a technical side, it wouldn't log ANY data and since it's P2P there wouldn't be any central organization the government could subpoena or shut down. I don't know programming, too bad, say, the people who created Linus and open source software like Torvalds aren't working on something like this right now.
Posted by jdbwar07 (150 comments )
Link Flag
Comparing to my country~
Comparing to my country(China)...Google really did a good job in USA. support Google~
Posted by ladamandis (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Ya right :(
Support Google if you want to end up under One world order :(
That is few Giant (media) companies controlling what people see/know world wide.
Only thing worst than this, would be to live under the Communist Chines Government :(
No, thank you.
Fight Big media control of our lifes/brains, support Open & De-centralized search engines like anoox, here:
www.anoox.com
Or any other Open & De-centralized search engine that you know, just whatever you do, do not become brain washed by Big media Google & Yahoo.
Posted by Cyrus_K (60 comments )
Link Flag
government is pushing the envelope
Our government continues to push the limits and expand their reach into the private lives of the citizens of this country. Bravo! to GOOGLE for their
fight to stop this runaway train of big brother!
Posted by jducks (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
The government is not just "pushing the envelope"
They are steaming it open and looking inside every chance they
get. I love my country, but this kind of crap is why I belong to the
EFF.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.eff.org" target="_newWindow">http://www.eff.org</a>
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Link Flag
That's What They Always Say
Under Bush &#38; Company, the response of the federal government to any question or criticism is always one of the following:

1. You're making a big deal out of nothing.

2. You don't understand how things are or how they work, but we do have that understanding.

3. Your criticisms are politically motivated.

4. Your criticism implies a lack of patriotism on your part.

These are all mechanisms that Bush &#38; Company use to avoid debating issues on their substance. They don't want to have to defend their actions and ideas on their merits. Why? Because most Americans really don't agree with the ideas they're trying to promote.
Posted by steven.randolph (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Bush & Co
It is that type of crap that is wrong with the gov't. You say Bush &#38; Co, but have you looked at what Joe Lieberman, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, etc. are saying? This is about power and almost all of the stuffed suits in Washington want more, the Republicans suck, the Democrats suck, end of story.
Posted by schubb (202 comments )
Link Flag
They don't even NEED Google's help!
IF all they wanted to do was determine how effective search engine filtering is, all they would need to do is USE Google. That would provide all the information they supposedly require.

Want to know if something is filtered? Search for it. If it comes up, it's not filtered. If it doesn't come up, then it is filtered.

I ask you, how hard is that?

The fact that it is so easy to make this determination without any active participation on the part of Google execs just goes to prove that the feds are attempting to use this as a smoke screen to set a precedent for future activities.

I salute Google and their attempts to protect our freedoms.
Posted by Jim Harmon (329 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes!
I completly agree with you on this one, Jim!
Posted by matt1299 (1 comment )
Link Flag
A google is too big for you, but here's what you want!
All the information I have is in the number 0.1234567891011121314151617181920212223...

There's an infinite amount of whatever you are looking for... go ahead. When eternity rolls over, tell me what you found that was interesting.
Posted by (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If the DOJ knows who this will impact
Google then why do they need Googles help? The DOJ says it will not take up to much of Google time and resources but stop short of offering to pay. And just how is that the DOJ knows how much time or resources it will take Google to produce this information? When did they get into the search business? And if they want to see if the censorship filters work why dont they simply type in some terms they are concerned about and see if Google blocks them or not. But I guess common sense and the government are merely oxymorons.
Posted by Buzz_Friendly (74 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Government: Google's privacy concerns unfounded
You can trust the government.

Just ask the Indians to whom smallpox infested blankets were deliberately given to cause death.

Just ask the men who were deliberately infected with STDs.

Just ask the civilians who were covertly dosed to LSD.

Need I go on?
Posted by the_stranger (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Is Google a PORN Partner?
It sure looks that way.
Posted by Stan Johnson (322 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Is that like a HUNTING buddy?
Not to be sarcastic... but what are you talking about?

Does Google make porn distribution easier? Sure.

Is Google emphasizing the porn in their search results? I doubt it.
In fact, "safe search" presumably blocks most if it.
Posted by mgreere (332 comments )
Link Flag
google is a porn partner
Back in 1999, I accidentally opened an email and could not believe what I saw. Beastiality. These women are being drugged and raped and videotaped and sold on the internet without their knowledge and without their consent. In half an hour I found 5 women from Peterborough, Ontario that I recognized from downtown. I know that these women DID NOT CONSENT to what happened to them.

I studied physiological psychology in University and know that different parts of the brain can be shut off and other parts left functioning. These people are being drugged with rohypnol and raped. Rohypnol anaesthetizes the frontal lobe of the brain and leaves the motor skills functioning, so that they appear to be functioning when in fact they are not. The frontal lobe contains your cognitive thought. Your ability to comprehend. Everything you stand for, your values, morals and ability to preceive is in your frontal lobe. These rapists anaesthetize the victims without their knowledge and rape them with animals. One web site had over 900,000 images of this garbage and there are over 3 and a 1/2 million websites. Does anybody seriously believe that women would do these things? It goes against everything. It is against the law. It is against every religion. It is an immorallity that defies comprehension. These people are victims. They are being drugged and raped and they don't even know it. If a victim suspects that something is happening to them and they go to the police, the police take them to a hospital where the doctors commit them to a psychiatric ward, as delusional. There are many, many reported cases of this happening to women in Canada who try to get a drug test and a sexual assault kit done to substantiate their claims. This porn ring is huge.
I complained about this to Google many, many times and they refuse to do anything about it. Many of these site openly declare themselves as rape sites and still Google sells these people.

I find these sites so offensive. But it is important that people look at them, understand what is happening and notify the victims, the authorities and Google that this is unacceptable behaviour.

I saw one very elderly woman, around 90 years old, with long grey hair (christian practise in women of this age. It is in deference to god) These porno pimps had her all painted up and were raping her with a dog. She was skin and bone obviously a dying person. Her poor little flesh was just hanging off of her little arms. She must have been in pallative care. I cried when I saw that one.....Some rotten sub human did this to her! There is no way that woman consented and Google is selling her and hundreds of thousands more. Google is the modern day auction block for slavery. Sexual slavery of the most horrifying obscenity that humanity has yet witnessed. Our Governments, police forces, law makers and the whole internet industry is protecting these criminals who have such vile disregard for human dignity.

I complained to Microsoft and apparently they started to filter there sites, because there was over a million site deleted.

I have not checked lately.

I find it interesting that a section of the U.S. government called Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, etc on the carpet because they claim they are infringeing on human rights when they edit their sites in the People's Republic of China. Pornography is one of the things being editted. Well what about the human rights of all of the victims being sold on these sites without their knowledge and without their consent? It appears that the money the U.S. and Canadian Government are making off of this absolute obscenity is worth more to them than the dignity and safety of their people.

These porno pimps are using Rohypnol as a gas. They can gas a dormitory in a University and put this girl, with whoever, that boy with whoever, boy with boy, boy with girl, youths with animals and video tape the whole lot and sell it on the internet and the kids would never, ever know about it. One cop told me, "It can't hurt you if you don't know about it." Another cop told me, "Nothing will ever be done in your case, there is too much money in it"

So you see what has become of humanity.

The Human Rights abuses by the Canadian and American Governments and the Internet slave traders is unprecedented. Every single victim has an inherent copyright on their own body.
Yet the law makers choose to believe that these millions of women LIKE animals. How perverted is that?

Is this their "freedom of the press"?

Dianne Robinson
Posted by emeraldgate (53 comments )
Reply Link Flag
HO HUM!!!!!!
Get a LIFE Lady!!!!!
Posted by Soldado_de_Amor (3 comments )
Link Flag
Google doesn't rape and drug people
Any more then Guns kill people. It's a search engine, if you are sick enough to be searching for photos of old women being raped by dogs and some one else was able to provide them it's not the search engine's fault.

Given that, they are extending you a courtesy by having safety filters that block alot of illicit content.

There were depraved people before the internet, there will be depraved people long after.
Posted by Bob Brinkman (556 comments )
Link Flag
I support porn more than Google
Because I look at it. I make that choice, everyday (sometimes twice). I'm 22 now, and have been looking at porn every day of my life since I was 11. You know where I found my porn before the internet? Bookstores, libraries....I bought it from my friends, who stole it from their parents. I found it on the street (literally). I took subscribtion cards out of other kids porn mags and ordered magazines to safe addresses. They send you quite a few issues before you get a bill. (not that eleven year olds have any substantial money anyway). No matter how hard you try to stop someone from doing something, especially children, if they want to do it, they will. I agree that rape is wrong, plain out and simple, but that is not what this is about in the slightest. Furthermore, why does society constantly feel to assert their fascist point of view as a truth. I would like to briefly call into question the reasons WHY we feel the need to "protect" children from pornography in the first place. Why is it so evil, so taboo? Why at the magical, arbitrary age of 18 does it become acceptable and okay? Does a child wake up on their 18th birthday any smarter and wiser than they were the night before? NO! By creating such taboos in the name of "protection" we just pique a childs interest even more. Why not teach pornography as part of sex education, and have disussions on the morality of the industry? How many children grow up thinking that the way sex is depicted in porn movies is reality? They have absolutely no basis for comparison. Wouldn't they be better off with a parent discussing this with them? Furthermore, how many incidents of underage rape may have been prevented if dude had just gone and rubbed one out before going to a party?

AND NOW FOR GOOGLE:

Google cannot be in a any way responsible for what other people do or choose to post a website on. That's like holding the newspaper that ran somebody's personal ad responsible for them getting raped. I for one thank and respect Google for having the balls to stand up to the government, and asking that ever-important question: WHY?

As for you, Dianne Robinson, stop looking at beastiality porn, it's kinda gross. If you don't like watching 90 year old ladies getting raped by animals, make the choice to stop supporting those websites by visiting them. You are supporting the very cause you claim to oppose. Next time you see someone you know getting humped by an animal, just remember that you played a part in it, and are probably more responsible for it than Google is.
Posted by George W Christ (7 comments )
Link Flag
Never had a problem with it...
I monitor my kids, have safe search on and never have had a problem with it. Sounds like a gun control mentality to me. As far as Google not giving up their records, it is their property not anyone elses. How about addressing the root cause of the searches, why people are searching for porn in the first place. Those millions of websites must tell you something about supply and demand.
Posted by tryoneon (26 comments )
Reply Link Flag
One of these days...
One of these days someone you care about could be an un-willing victim (let's hope not). It really doesn't matter if you monitor your kids if companies like Google is helping build the porn market. There will alway be victims regardless of your efforts to protect those you care about. I think you need to consider the facts a little deeper if you truely want to protect your loved ones. I feel sorry for you and your perspective.
Posted by Stan Johnson (322 comments )
Link Flag
Right ON!!
I totally agree with you!!!! It is the user who goes after PORN... not the company... GUN Control Mentality once again... Let's legislative all our problems AWAY!!!!
Posted by Soldado_de_Amor (3 comments )
Link Flag
There is more porn in...
In a chat room, then there ever was in any search I have done on google.
Posted by Eskiegirl302 (82 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Random fishing in private data - a greater evil!
These fishing expeditions into private data areas must cease. Here is another example of government's bureaucratic attack on business where issues of privacy and unreasonable use of subpoena should be raised. It is obvious that the prosecution intends to use the data to imply state of mind, intent, and follow-through on the completed search data.

Any idiot that mandates data extraction from private industry archives that are meant to improve search service for the public is on a fishing expedition of the rankest order. The courts should require the "fishers" to supply documents that state specifically the exact scientific methodology that will be used for the extraction and "statistical use" giving precise definitions of each research, including null hypothesis, acceptable limits of error for test and for estimation. Such documents absolutely must not be ordered "confidential" to the courts use only. The specifications must be public record so that the populace can begin to appreciate the arrogance and the idiocy behind this class of requests.

Having been a research analyst and manager of marketing information systems I came to see many such requests. There were times when the question, "How can this be done, such that minimal damage to the public, will ensue?" Given extraordinary license to operationally define "random extract", the output could range from a random backup tape, to every n'th record, to every record time-stamped in a random time of day, to random disk addresses (think about indexed file sets).

Starting from a weak platform, one does not build more than a house of cards. To a true researcher, such "random" definition and "sample size" only served to warn of statistically endorsed invalid data. Let us all get involved to save money and to prevent unwise use of data that can lead to no good.

Then there's the cost! The fishers NEVER gave a dime's worth of thought to the compliance cost of a request would be, nor did they indicate that the process would be required subsequently.

'Nuf said... for now!

Warren
Posted by WornHall (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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