February 17, 2006 1:32 PM PST

Google to feds: Back off

Google lashed out at the U.S. Justice Department on Friday, saying that a high-profile request for a list of a week's worth of search terms must not be granted because it would disclose trade secrets and violate the privacy rights of its users.

In a strongly worded legal brief filed with a federal judge in San Jose, Calif., the search company accused prosecutors of a "cavalier attitude," saying they were "uninformed" about how search engines work and the importance of protecting Google's confidential information from disclosure.

This response came after the Justice Department last month asked a judge to force Google to hand over a random sample of 1 million Web pages from its index, along with copies of a week's worth of search terms to aid in the Bush administration's defense of an Internet pornography law. That information is supposed to be used to highlight flaws in Web filtering technology during a trial this fall.

Google's defense of privacy

Google has offered multiple reasons why it shouldn't have to comply with a Justice Department subpoena. One is privacy. An excerpt:

"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."

The Justice Department subpoena normally would have been a routine matter, and America Online, Microsoft and Yahoo voluntarily complied with similar requests. But Google's resistance sparked a furor over privacy, with Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, asking the Justice Department for details, and a bill appearing in the House of Representatives that would require Web sites to delete information about visitors.

"The privacy of Google users matters, and Google has promised to disclose information to the government only as required by law," the brief says. "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."

Google's opposition raised eyebrows last month after it stood up to the U.S. government but capitulated to censorship demands from China's ruling Communist Party. At a hearing this week, politicians said they were "sickened" that Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo chose to censor their search results for Chinese users.

Another reason for objecting to the subpoena, Google says in its brief authored by Al Gidari and Lisa Delehunt at the law firm of Perkins Coie, is that government lawyers might share the information with the FBI for criminal prosecution--say, of people who typed in search terms like "marijuana cultivation" or "directv hacking."

A protective order does say that only Justice Department attorneys "who have a need" for the information may receive it. But a department spokesman told Newsweek last month that, "I'm assuming that if something raised alarms, we would hand it over to the proper (authorities)."

"This is all part of a civil action, and so consequently it's strictly to get the information we specifically requested," Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, told CNET News.com on Friday. "As regards that material, that is what it is being used for and that is all."

A sex lawsuit's unexpected twist
The Bush administration's request is tied to its defense of the Child Online Protection Act, which restricts posting sexually explicit material deemed "harmful to minors" on commercial Web sites unless it's unavailable to minors.

Alberto Gonzales v. Google

Court documents reveal that the Justice Department has been pressuring Google for excerpts from its search logs for half a year. Prosecutors hope to use the excerpts to show that filtering software can't protect children online.

Government subpoena and Google's objection (186K pdf)

Motion to require Google to comply (660K pdf)

Declaration of Philip Stark, government statistics expert (1.1M pdf)

In legal documents filed last month, prosecutors say compliance is necessary to prove that the 1998 pornography law is "more effective than filtering software in protecting minors from exposure to harmful materials on the Internet." For instance, Internet addresses obtained from the search engines could be tested against filtering programs to evaluate their effectiveness.

A divided U.S. Supreme Court in 2004 stopped short of striking down the law and instead said that a full trial--to take place in Philadelphia--was needed to determine whether the law is constitutional.

Because the ACLU likely will seek to dispute any conclusions the Justice Department draws from the data it receives from search engines, the civil liberties group apparently has been sending its own requests to other search companies. (The government has hired Philip Stark, a professor of statistics at the University of California at Berkeley, to evaluate the search logs.)

AOL has received such a request from the ACLU, Google disclosed in its brief, adding that its opposition to the subpoena was in part designed to avoid being enmeshed in precisely that kind of ongoing legal spat. That would place Google "in the witness chair, and exposes Google's intellectual property to cross-examination in open court by the ACLU, its counsel, experts, and consultants," the brief says.

AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo each have received two subpoenas from the Justice Department, one asking for information about filtering technology and the other asking for search terms. The ACLU has given AOL a subpoena to appear at a deposition "asking for testimony about their parental control technology," ACLU attorney Aden Fine said Friday.

A survey conducted earlier this month by CNET News.com of the four major search engines about their privacy policies found that some would reveal when they had received subpoenas and what they did to delete customer data, while others would not. Google and Yahoo appeared to be the most secretive.

Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL have said that they defend users' privacy vigorously and complied with the Justice Department's search request because it seeks only a list of search terms and Web addresses, and not individual user data. The government has not, for example, asked for information about who typed in what search terms.

U.S. District Judge James Ware has scheduled a hearing in the case for March 13.

CNET News.com's Anne Broache and Greg Sandoval contributed to this report

See more CNET content tagged:
privacy, Google Inc., request, search result, search engine

71 comments

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2 Faced
Of course... Since AOL and Google are now such good friends, it appears as though Google wants to play both sides of this issue... AOL is supposedly using Google search technology, yet AOL gave up records to the government while Google refuses.

Honestly, is anybody going to believe that a random dataset of URLs discloses trade secrets? Google may have a point to argue, but their argument is frail and weak...
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They have more arguments available...
They are trying to mask it in trade secrets and protection of privacy. Google has some other stronger arguments at it's disposal however that I haven't seen brought up yet.

The best of these is that the US can not ask a company to perform work for them for free. Google's value is on it's search technology and they can easily demonstrate that value. Providing this data is valuable information. Should Microsoft have asked for the same information Google would have asked for millions or billions of dollars. The DoJ has not offered to buy it, they say "it is ours, hand it over" and that's NOT allowed in our legal system.

Google is touching this on one side with the cross-examination argument showing that they will become an expert witness for the DoJ.

Another argument they are making but isn't covered heavily in this article is that the DoJ's request falls far short of it's true intentions to prove filtering technology. It essentially circumvents the systems it intends to prove are faulty.

A strong argument can also be made on the 5th amendment where Google could find itself in violation of the COPA law if it were to be passed by the courts. Google is a commercial website that would be providing acccess to minors to the objectionable material. Google has no requirement or interest to provide such evidence.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
re
Since you are a corporate *****, I am surprised you are not defending Google. You are right, it is not trade secrets, but on the other hand it is not the governments business either.

It is good to see someone standing up to our increasingly anti-freedom government.
Posted by Bill Dautrive (1179 comments )
Link Flag
Mnd the subtext
I have seen many comments in many places shouting about how Google is bad for complying with subpoenas, even though they're the only search engine who is pushing back at all. Notice the deafening silence from other search engines (MSN, Yahoo, in particular). One can only presume that they gladly handed over everything that was requested without flinching. The subtext here, in these stories about Google and subpoenas for data, is that the rest of the world's search engines roll right over whenever a government agency asks for data. That should be getting as much press as Google's pushing back does.
Posted by MrNougat (78 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Come on, Google & Feds are together.
Do you really think people are that gullible!
I mean US government just fired a missile into a house in Pakistan that killed 13 woman and children, and every day it bombs and kills
Iraqi's at will, it kidnappees people from around Europe and takes them into secret places to be Tortured, it is spending 100s of Billions
of Dollars to have nuclear aircraft careers around the world, 100s of Billions of dollars to have basis around the world, from Japan, to
Korea, to Romania, to Germany, to Iraq, etc. etc. to control the world and you think for 1 second that this same government would not
be using & controlling a company inside USA that would allow it to achieve its goals of controlling what people see & think around
the world! Which is what exactly Google & Yahoo deliver.

The only way to really get the "Feds to Back off" is to have the control of the Internet, which means the following outside of the USA and
spread around the world:
1- SQL DB, that is why I support the MySQL in this regard
2- DNS root server, that is why I support the ORSN effort in this regard
3- Search engine, that is why I support the Anoox effort in this regard
Posted by free_people (66 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Dude!!!
You've been hitting the anti-American kool-aide WAY to hard. Lay off the stuff. You're sounding like a disgruntled European.
Posted by challman (27 comments )
Link Flag
Proof?
One would hope you have proof for all of those brash statistics you have laid out. Either I am not watching the news enough or you are hearing somthings. Suggestion add some documentation to you rash comments.
Posted by Mojo777 (7 comments )
Link Flag
huh?
Wow.
Posted by R Me (196 comments )
Link Flag
more anoox garbage
Just designed to create buzz around a cut rate search engine. It takes longer to deliver results, then it rank the sites.
Of course search engine results are already decided by the people based on number hits/reciprocal links making voting a worthless idea.
Posted by Bob Brinkman (556 comments )
Link Flag
Goolag!!! Hypocrits!!!
Sure, Google refuses to give the DOJ some logs on the search
results in "fear" of trade secrets going out to others... But, they
WILLINGLY work with the freaking commies CHINESE government to
sell out peace activiests and others who are behind the "bamboo
curtain". How the hell is Goolag "google" trying to kid?
Posted by windraiden (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
educated at all?
If you knew anything about the "Goolag" or "Hypocrits," you would probably realize that they are spelled:

"Gulag" and "Hypocrites"

Furthermore, your comparison of a free American company (GOOGLE) and forced labor camps is unfounded, has no basis in reality, and shows that you clearly have no understanding of what you speak.

I argue against Google in this scenario, but I'd never go as far as you have... Some things are just not true. I'm afraid you have left the realm of logic and understanding.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
tired of it
I'm really tired of hearing how google is terrible for following chinese law and the wishes of the chinese government. If a foreign company bought a factory in the US could they treat its employees like they would at home? How about taxes? How about patents? How about... get the idea.
Posted by R Me (196 comments )
Link Flag
RE
Unlike in the U.S, China's system of government offers little or no recourse for those who seek to challenge the wishes of those in charge. Google could refuse to censor and be blocked by what has become know as the Great Firewall of China.
We expect companies that come to the U.S to abide by our laws.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Link Flag
Google in China
Google being able to operate inside China is contingent on their compliance with the laws of China. They are not in a free market with freedoms we experience here in the US.

Google's existence in the US market is contingent on compliance with US laws that are VERY different and designed (or supposed to be) to respect freedoms and personal ownership.

They will not be able to operate in each of these markets in the same way. In China when they say "no" there is no legal recourse for Google to take. They either comply, or they will be banned from doing business in China. While in the US the Government is NOT allowed to tell another company what it can or can not do without due legal process.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
The best censorship...
...is no access at all.

Which is basically what China would be seeing if nobody was willing to do business with them.

That's the irony of Capitalism and Free Press; we defeat comunism by selling them the rope they want to hang us with. Pretty soon, they can't live without it.

Harry Voyager
Posted by H Voyager (38 comments )
Link Flag
What in it for Google?
Do you think that Google is not giving the Feds information because it really wants to protect users privacy? I think that Google foresaw that people would move their searching else where if information was given over. I think that Google is driven by profits and their interest and for now keeping users information private is within their interest. Who knows they could be giving data over secretly. Not everything is in the news.

With the event of these stories I have personally moved to start using Yahoo and MSN for my searches along with Google. I personally am not afraid of my searches being known by the government as long as they are kept separate from my name and IP. My question to all those in such an uproar over this is, what are you searching? Naughty! Naughty!
Posted by Mojo777 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
my searchs
I search for the usual stuff daily

yellow cake
implosion switch
biolgic freeze dryer
autoclave
isolation box
raw cotton
industrial H2O2

Will I get in trouble?
Posted by R Me (196 comments )
Link Flag
Two thumbs up for Google!
Two thumbs up for Google and two thumbs down for gov. There seems to be alot of different opinions here about this topic. But for what ever reason Google is denying the gov to come into there home is GOOD! Its not Googles fault that there is illegal stuff on the internet. If you don't like it then block google. I know for some people it may not be easy to set up security, but you should learn. Just like you need a licence to drive before you can drive. Why should Google help? Will it put and end to illegal activity on the internet? Not even close. Its just the gov flexing there muscles trying to get what they want. How would you feel if you owned an apartment building and lived in one of the suits. Then one day the feds come by saying they want to search the whole building because one of the other occupant was doing something illegal. I'm sure some might have no problem with this, but I would not like to have my privacy invaded just because some one said I had to. If it was bad enough im sure I would have it dealt with on my own terms, and I'm sure google would to. Anyways, Google has my full support in the fight. Good going Google :-)
Posted by booboo1243 (328 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google has no problem censoring
the free flow of information at the request of the Chinese government. On the one hand denying search results to the US goverment on kiddie porn and on the other censoring dissidents in China for money.
Two thumbs up google
Posted by jmmejzz (107 comments )
Link Flag
Only China can ask Google ,,,, HaHa
Everything for Memory !
Posted by X-C3PO (126 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Your answer...
Google is worth billions. The majority of their value is associated with the success of their search engine. The data contained in that system is worth billions more than Google's dollar value. A small sampling would be worth millions of dollars. So if you think MSN did the right thing by giving away something worth millions, you simply don't understand the market as well as Google.

This may be "selfish" of them, but it's what they should be doing as a responsible company looking out for their own investments.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sue Google for not filtering porn but leave me alone.
Ok The government suspects Google is not filtering porn properly aiding perverts or whetever. Why Do my rssults have to be exposed? I DO want Google to be held responsable if they are not filtering out unlawful porn BUT I want my privacy mainstained. Can't they just prove it another way?
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
congrats on equal stupidity
Hey, way to go! You managed to equal his stupidity with another irrelevant argument. Nicely done. Maybe if you two morons put your heads together and met in the middle you'd find something resembling the truth. I doubt you can manage it.
Posted by ogman (150 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You Know What's Disturbing
Google started by some kids that created robots to scan the text of web pages and display the results in an algorithmic fashion.

My question is this: As a web developer, copy producer, web designer and developer my websites consist solely of creation of mine. Fully copy-written works of web art. Works of copy-written material that your [Google] robots has pilfered through, returned explicit results to fit your [Google] Organization for intent of profit. So I feel like you [Google] has committed copyright infringement on everybody excluding yourselves web presence. The numbers will show and well as the content you provide that you [Google], in fact, make profit off of other peoples copy without proper reimbursement.

Personally it has taken me hundreds of hours to create and write my content only so your robots can return profit bering results on Google.com.

I will be exploring more about Googles Copyright infringing on www.TechViewsToday.US. I would suggest you contemplate taking the same actions!

~Justin
Posted by OneWithTech (196 comments )
Reply Link Flag
do you like visitors?
if you do then shut it
Posted by volterwd (466 comments )
Link Flag
Google & copyright
Probably the best way to think about this is that by creating a web page you've also given people (and perhaps bots) an implied license to read it and perhaps index it.

If you don't like this, use the noarchive tag or a robots.txt file.

One federal judge has agreed that Google's cached copy of a page is not a copyright infringement.

It may not be the last word, but it's hardly clear that Google's use of your copyrighted work is in violation of copyright law.
Posted by declan00 (848 comments )
Link Flag
Google is obviously ignoring recent history...
Sounds just like the glory days of Microsoft when good ol' Steve was lambasting the DOJ for questioning their business practices on a daily basis, but eventually had his (and Gates') pee-pee wacked. You would think Google's leaders would have taken notice, but instead they are charging ahead with an arrogant defense. Perhaps they are too young to remember?
Posted by (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Please explain your comment
Beside the fact that this is a Corporation versus
the Government, I see no other corrolation between
the two. Please explain.
Posted by Johnny Mnemonic (374 comments )
Link Flag
Yeah?
And when the world needs a savior from some tyrant, who do they hope comes to the rescue? The U.S.A.

I'm not saying everything we've ever done has been the best decision, but our intentions were just. Just ask South Korea, Vietnam, England, Germany, France, Iraq, etc.
Posted by challman (27 comments )
Reply Link Flag
as usual
As usual, DOJ by filing these dodgy very questionable warrants, it is now operating outside existing laws, constitution inclusive!, and is operating a pure fishing expidition, without probable cause, seeking to prove guilt before the fact!

But alas, ultimately no one is ever above the law, for after all look what happened to Richard M Nixon, for history now tells us that, he is now the most reviled elected president in history!

Oh well, such is life!

A quote Dwight D Eisenhower "A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both. "
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
matter of principal
The problem here is that the Bush regime seems to think they can do whatever they want despite what laws and the U.S Constitution have to say. Kudos to Google for standing up to these assh#les that wont be happy till there is a camera in every bedroom in America
Posted by brifo823 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
... unless they are chinese
"The privacy of Google users matters" ... unless they are chinese. It's about time google lets the mask fall. It's all about money, like every other big company.
Posted by (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Perhaps...
This may be true, but, access to such a large data
repository as Google is better than no access at
all. Attacking the messenger will solve nothing.
Posted by Johnny Mnemonic (374 comments )
Link Flag
Ideea
This is one of the ideeas.
The posibilities is to go beack in the past.
Some hard one:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.retete-online.com/retete/_cartofi/cartofi-bavarezi-ro.php" target="_newWindow">http://www.retete-online.com/retete/_cartofi/cartofi-bavarezi-ro.php</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.retete-online.com/retete/_ciuperci/ciuperci-aluat-bere-ro.php" target="_newWindow">http://www.retete-online.com/retete/_ciuperci/ciuperci-aluat-bere-ro.php</a>
Posted by mess486 (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fed to Google: Get a Clue
Or how about this, "You have no idea who you're dealing with." Just ask Microsoft what happened the last time the Justice Department came after them. They came this close to being split up a la Ma Bell and the whole thing arguably was a direct cause of the Nasdaq collapse.
Posted by Neo Con (428 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Everybody get a clue!
Google can't just open for business in any country and not
follow that country's law . . . even if jackass senators in the US
think Google should stand up for what they (the senators) have
deemed right in the states.

As for the Justice Dept . . . they have no right to make Google
spill itself for there own purposes because it's NOT LAWFUL. I'm
pretty sure that the US Constitution has explicitly stated that the
Gov in NOT above the law.
Posted by seth Wright (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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