March 17, 2006 6:22 PM PST

Judge: Google must give feds limited access to records

In a move that alleviates some privacy concerns, a federal judge granted part of a Justice Department request for Google search data but said users' search queries were off-limits.

The 21-page order (click here for PDF), issued Friday in San Jose, Calif., by U.S. District Judge James Ware, represented little change from his stance at a hearing earlier this week.

Ware had indicated he would grant the U.S. Justice Department access to a portion of Google's index of Web sites but said he was hesitant to ask for users' search terms because of worries about the "perception by the public that this is subject to government scrutiny" when they type search terms into

Ware said in his Friday order that the government demonstrated a "substantial need" for Google's random URL sample, which it plans to run through filtering software to test the software's antipornography filtering prowess as the DOJ prepares to defend a child-protection law in court. But the DOJ did not meet that standard regarding search queries, Ware said.

He noted that 50,000 URLs must be turned over, unless both parties agree to an alternative scenario on or before April 3.

Neither Google nor Justice Department representatives could be reached immediately for comment Friday.

Google associate general counsel Nicole Wong said in a post at the company's blog on Friday evening that the search giant would comply "fully" with the judge's order. "What his ruling means is that neither the government nor anyone else has carte blanche when demanding data from Internet companies," she wrote, calling it "a clear victory for our users and for our company."

The decision drew cautious praise from a privacy advocate.

"It's a well-reasoned decision, and it does minimize privacy and civil liberties implications," said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Givens went on to say that she still doesn't think the government needs Google's data: "They can design a research study that would accomplish much the same. It's a bad precedent for the government to be strong-arming search engine companies for such sensitive data."

A 'scaled-down' request
The Bush administration's request is part of its campaign to defend the 1998 Child Online Protection Act, which faces a court challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union. That law restricts the posting on commercial Web sites of sexually explicit material deemed "harmful to minors," unless it's made unavailable to the youngsters. The ACLU argues that Web sites cannot realistically comply with such requirements and that the law violates the right to freedom of speech mandated by the First Amendment.

A divided U.S. Supreme Court in 2004 stopped short of striking down COPA and instead decided that a full trial was needed to determine whether the law is constitutional. Those proceedings are scheduled to begin in Philadelphia in October.

Federal prosecutors said in court filings that Google's compliance with the DOJ subpoena is necessary to prove this fall that the 1998 law is "more effective than filtering software in protecting minors from exposure to harmful materials on the Internet."

The case against Google began Jan. 18, when the Justice Department asked Ware to order the company to comply with a subpoena issued last August. The subpoena called for a "random sampling" of 1 million Internet addresses accessible through Google's search engine and of 1 million search queries submitted to Google in a one-week period.

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.

That significantly "scaled-down" request helped convince Ware that the request was reasonable, he wrote in Friday's order. He said the random URLs appeared to be "relevant" to the issues in the government's case, though he admitted the government had been vague about its purposes for studying the URL samples. "The court gives the government the benefit of the doubt," he wrote.

On the other hand, Ware wrote, the government's request for search queries may have privacy implications, particularly if users were to search for personal information or engage in "vanity searches" of their own names.

Ware was also concerned about the subpoena's potential for leaking Google's trade secrets. He said he worried that even a narrow sample of Google's index and query log could "act as the thin blade of the wedge in exposing Google to potential disclosure of its confidential information."

"I don't think giving a random sampling of those is going to reveal a lot of their trade secrets," said attorney Andy Serwin, whose practice includes Internet privacy at the firm of Foley & Lardner in San Diego. But by granting the government much less data than the agency originally wanted, the ruling "is much more favorable toward protecting users' privacy," he said.

Google had emphasized in its arguments that the government's request was overreaching. The company's lawyer, Al Gidari, stressed at this week's court appearance that there are alternative venues for the Justice Department's social science research, such as Alexa Internet, a site owned by that offers Web analytics services that can produce similar information.

In the courtroom on Tuesday, Ware said he was concerned that if he granted the request, "a slew of trial attorneys and curious social scientists could follow suit." But in Friday's order, he said he did not see any "technical burden" that could serve as an excuse for not complying with the subpoena.

Privacy debate
Google had also built its defense on privacy concerns. Gidari said Tuesday that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, or ECPA, sets strict rules for obtaining access to search terms, rules the government has not followed. Ware chose not to weigh in on ECPA matters in his order.

The Justice Department has forcefully dismissed all privacy concerns, saying that any search data obtained from Google would not be shared with anyone else, including federal law enforcement officers who could potentially find the information useful for investigations.

The government has also said it is not interested in getting information that could be used to identify individuals, but, rather, anonymous data about search patterns intended to help bolster its case against antipornography filters.

Last year, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL received subpoenas identical to the original DOJ request. Those companies chose to comply rather than fight the request in court. They have all emphasized that they turned over search terms and logs but not information that could be linked to individuals.

The dispute has managed to raise eyebrows among privacy advocates and politicians alike. Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, used the subpoena as justification for a new bill that would curb records retained by Web sites, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, pressed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for details.

At the same time, Google's fight with the DOJ has caused some head-scratching because the search giant chose to cooperate with the Chinese government's demands to censor searches on its site.

CNET's Declan McCullagh and Elinor Mills contributed to this report.

See more CNET content tagged:
Child Online Protection Act, Google Inc., law, government, Judge


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
The good thing is that search terms are off-limit, but I don't really understand why would DOJ need random 50,000 web-site addresses.. Oh, well.

Anyway, am I the only one getting sick and tired of everyone coming after Google for their decision to adhere to Chinese laws? As much as we may not like the Chinese regime, Google was the last of major search companies to start native-Chinese portal and is much more open about what it censures. Like it or not, other countries have different laws (e.g. Europe and fascist items) and any company that does business internationally must follow local rules.
Posted by Rusdude (170 comments )
Reply Link Flag Needs A Median
I can't believe the press coverage has been soo crappy on this matter. This is a huge victory for Google. The justice department basically said Google doesn't have to give out people's information. Yet, has spun this into an anti-google story after Google's stock went down. is either overly excited about Google, or deeply pessimistic. There is no median common sense here.
Posted by (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The reason is simple... NO VICTORY for Google.
NO, this is NOT a "victory" for either Google, or the American People. Nor, is this an unimportant issue.

The government made an overtly over-expansive demand of a PRIVATE data-source, for information that in no way what-so-ever, according to most experts, was related to Google or to actually proving the Federal-governments highly questionable defense of an ongoing and, in most peoples minds, a CLEARLY un-Constitutional, act of attempting to suppress "Free Speech".

The government did this, allegedly, to support a "law" which has, in fact, already been deemed completely "un-Constitutional" by several courts. And, more importantly, Google had nothing, what-so-ever, to do with the governments defense of "COPA", in the first-place.

However, now, the government WILL be allowed to set the DANGEROUS precedent that PRIVATE companies CAN be FORCED to relinquish "data", whenever the government, simply, wants to get its hands on it, whether there is a legitimate reason or connection between the "data source" and the governments agenda, or not.

The slight legal back-peddling as to the precise amount of "data" which is being commandeered, is nothing more than smoke-and-mirrors designed to divert attention from the REAL ISSUE, ...the fact that, in the end, the government pretty much GOT ITS WAY and WILL, apparently, GET THE DATA.
Posted by Had_to_be_said (384 comments )
Link Flag
Sure hit the nail on the head with that one. The DOJ was given URL's. 50,000 of them. But anyone including you and I can get url's. Some win DOJ, and thanks for taking up court time you did not need to.

I really noticed how GOOGLE stood up for users and their right to privacy. Good job Mr. Ware. I trust GOOGLE, I will continue to use Google, and the rest of you can go use Yahoo, AOL, and the other companies who were willing to hand your info without batting an eyelash.

GOOGLE knows it's law, and my info remains with them, and not with people who just choose to snoop.

I know very well that porn sites can are restricted to some countries. I won't go into the details, but these places just cannot get to them. If they are smart enough to keep porn out of there, then how come your not smart enough to keep it off of your computer? It can be and has been done.

I really commend Google on this, and I also commend The Court on seeing the real issue and our rights as United States Citizens to not let those who would choose to do so, be able just walk up and say "Hand over all the website URL's that you have visited since---" I would also tell them, find your own sites. So now the DOJ has url's, they do not have my ip addy, and they do not know what I search for. As it should be. That is my business, not the Govts. or yours or anyone elses.

Some people seem to think that we work for the Government, instead of the Government working for us. Get your heads out of the sand people!
Posted by Eskiegirl302 (82 comments )
Link Flag
The fact that the US government is after Google to help in its fight against crime should be ample proof that Google itself must be considered spyware.
There seems to be an unsolvable dilemma between our cherished freedom and right to privacy versus the use of any sophisticated software. The web is murkier than we are made to believe.
Posted by rhecken (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well geez then every search engine is spyware, not a good comment.
hehe... spyware might be a little to far. If that was the cas nearly every single Search Engine would be considered Spyware. Heck if you go that far, most office suite software programs are spyware. Heck.. then even iMacs and Windows are software.

You are going down a slippery slope with that comment... might wanna re-think that.
Posted by aSiriusTHoTH (176 comments )
Link Flag
The Constitution Sigularity
This doesn't seem that hard.
It's not unrealistic to do your own filtering so I
think there should be an attempt made but there
has to be a realistic demand like the website will
post warnings but because of freedom of speech
I think you should be able post whatever you
want unless it is breaking any other laws like
plagerism, rape etc.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is a Hoax: Google is part of US government
Do they 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.
Come on! Wake up to the fact that Google & Yahoo are as much part of the UG gov to control what people think worldwide as are CNN, WallStreetJournal, NSA, CIA, etc. Big media sources.

So what is the choice?
Seek and use Search engines that are Open & de-centralized, that is not
run from USA, but are run from many countries from around the world with
no ONE company controlling them.
Posted by free_people (66 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Do you even listen?
Do you even listen to what you're saying?
Seems to me all you are doing is labelling companies that became big as evil and government controlled. But your grounds behind this seem a bit asinine.

I'm all for newer search engines - provided they offer something new and useful to me and/or many people, or they perform better than the current. And many of the 'open' ones such as Anoox are just simply horrible search engines.
And technically, isn't everything on the inernet controlled by whoever put it up? They always have the power to modify or take it away, and that will never change.
If it were a hoax, then why not make it one that looks like it took effort?
Posted by Tomcat Adam (272 comments )
Link Flag
You are a certifiable idiot....
... but then, we all know that already. But just once it would be nice
if you had any clue about what you railing against.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
This should still be illegal
The US Government is still getting something of value for free. No court should require Google or any company to hand over any asset for free. This is a case of political agenda and not enforcement of law. Could you imagine if the Justice Department requested 100 trucks from Ford and then lost a fight over this in court? Google assets are owned by Google and should not be given away for free, its unconstitutional. I hope Google realizes this and appeals.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Government and the People
What is wrong with Americans? There seems to be few Amricans still holding Natural Bloodline Genes of their Founding Forefathers. Those Christian Forefathers and their families who ahd to suffer great hardships, pain and death to give us all what small amount of Freedoms we truly have let in America.

God Bless America must be Prayed as God Please Bless America Once Again, for America is no longer Blessed by God, but only being used to fulfill His purpose.

American's label of "Home Of The Free and The Brave" is daily proving itself to be a Double-standard myth or lie. Give any person some Authroity backed-up by a Weapon, Bullet Proof Vest, Equipment, and un-numbered amount of Supporting Bodies fighting with and beside you. Can even make a mouse wear with self-pride, the label of Brave.

Americans numbering about 300 million strong, are being destoryed by 2 or 3 million people given authority over them. Where is the deifference of days of old with the Salves and Slave Master?

A million person March means nothing nor does it change anything with the few we have voted into Offices and gave authority over us. When Law Enforcement Officers go against the Citizenry who are paying their ay and benefits, they do not care. It becomes a BrotherHOOD(s) game of US and THEM. Them being the Targets and Punching Bags, the Un-armed American Citizenry No-bodies.

Make yourself an honest list of Laws and Freedoms. The does and do nots. Put America on one half and Taliban on the other half. You will find not only does America have over 2.4 million Laws more than the Taliban had. But Americans under these Laws have far less Freedoms and Rights. The American People seems to stay happy as long as they have some jingle in their pockets and gas in their tank. But that to will be gone before or shortly after the "Real ID Act" goes into full swing by May of 2008.

Yes the long sought and planed for "New Order World" is here, but it is now pressing for the "One Order World." The Planted Bird Fleu, or whatever name will be used. Will be to rid America of millions of it's poor, sick, needy and elderly. We will see many "Death Camp Dentention Centers" and many Disappearing without Trial or fast Trials under False and made-up Charges.

All a common sense person has to do is watch what little HONEST NEWS REPORTING we have left not fully bought, paid for, and controlled by a fe in America's Government and World Banking System. If you think things are going to get better, you are a fool, things are going to get far, far worse very fast and soon. There is not anything the People can do about it, other than to stand-up and do what America's Christian Forefathers and their families did against their fellow Countrymen and those in Authority over them. But there isn't 2% of the Citizenry with what it takes to stand on their own and do such.

America will lose it's Armed Forces in the Middle-East, mainly seen in Iraq. And a Civil Type War is coming to America, it's streets and country sides, I have wrote and warned of this for many years.

We will see a Cash-less System, the Real ID Act, and people being implanted with a chip very soon now. We will see those Dentention Camps being used for far more than Mexicans cross our Borders.

We will see Color against Color, Beliefs against Beliefs, Poor against the Rich, and our Borders will be over-ran by tens of millions, and they won't be coming here looking for work.

God is no respecter of persons, nor is He a respecter of Nations. America which is truning more and more away from God and the way that is right, will be destroyed. For America is the Great ***** spoken of in Revelation chapter 17.

I know this isn't what Christian America wants to hear, just as they do not want to hear the Seven Year Tribulation Period has already started. But it's time Christian America wakes-up and gets over the good-timing Church events, and get back to the roots of God's Word and ways.
Jimmie King
Gassaway, Tn
Posted by oldgrapeape (48 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hold the Redneck jokes...
Why does this guy have to be from TN. Whenever I see this kind of stuff it makes me sick to my stomache. So please hold the sterotypical jokes and rants about TN, rednecks, and Christians...

Now on to my rubutal...

First off, you are in the wrong place for your post all together. I think you need to re-examine your Bible too, because any theologian in the entire world would laugh at your interpretation of Revelation.

The United States is not part of the end times, sorry! We are not even mentioned. Any by the way we are not God's nation either, that would be Israel. Also, there are a bunch of different Biblical Christian views on the end times and exactly how they are going to happen. (A|post|pre)millenialism, (pre|mid|post) tribulation rapture, and these are just the main ones. All of these have scripture and pretty convincing arguments for support, but I didn't hear you quote a single one, and quite frankly I really hope you don't. I would imagine it would be completely out of context.

As far as the "***** of Bablyon" in Revelation. The U.S., I don't think so. Even most of the Roman Catholic theologians will admit this is talking about them, but they believe it is in reference to a time period that has already past.

And being in the middle of the tribulation right now! Seriously man, pick up that book and dust it off. Stop taking everything some backwoods preacher with a 7th grade education told you as fact, and read for yourself. Study some greek and hebrew, pick up a couple dozen different commentaries and stop looking for places like this to try and get your completley unfounded points across.

While I appreciate your conviction, and agree with you that the majority of "Westernized" Christians are completley apathetic towards anything spiritual in nature, your approach abrasive and unscriptural.

The local church in America will fade into apathy just as it has in Europe. The building will become the "tombs and sepluchures of god", because we have made him "into the image of corruptible man". But none of this should be pressing news to you, just read (Matt. 13, or Revelation 3).

Besides if you really do believe that time is so short, then why are you wasting it online. You should be out fulfilling the comission that was given to us in (Matt. 24), and investing in the hearts and minds of individuals.
Posted by jwarren.carroll (84 comments )
Link Flag
Sorry about the spelling----
Sorry about my spelling, I can't type, spell, or wake-up this morning. To fire-up the computer and see more of what our courts and country are to to the People, makes a person upset and fast to reply. Again, forgive me for the spelling and your having to read between the lines. But at least I am trying to do something other than read and let others tote my load.
Jimmie King
Gassaway, TN
Posted by oldgrapeape (48 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Vale the 4th amendment, for in one stroke of a pen the judge has killed the amendment!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google access for feds
It seems that if you want to get anything through the US District courts, you file in California. If the government has even limited access to Google, which is basically all search related, then people will stop using Google in favor of other less noticable search engines. We might even be forced to design our own search engines. They might be slower, but more secure from prying eyes.
Posted by SimonKiler (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Surprising Ruling!
I'm somewhat pleasently surprised in this Judge's ruling; however, it's good to know his honor has a sense of humor while ensuring Google's response is attentive to the spirit of the law! :-)
Posted by edgirard (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Snakes do slip into Black Robes
As I told Tennessee's Governor a few days back, while naming THREE former Lawyers who have became Triers Of Facts, snakes who have slip into Black Robes. I know all are not bad and dishonest, but many of those Lawyers we call Crooks and Double Crossers, have become Criminals on the other side of the People's Bench, and covered under IMMUNITY.

I call Tennessee's Justice system, "The Tennessee Taliban Justice Of Making Money." As we all know, our Government is not out to help us, but kill and enslave us. Therefore we have many little self-seen gods in both State and Federal Government Offices, who care nothing about you and yours or me and mine. They receive a man given Title, Status, great pay and never ending great benefits. But far worse than even these, is they receive authority over us, and thereby make and pass a Bill giving themselves even more IMMUNITY.

The SWORD in the Bible is the Word of God, but it is also used as Government and Law Enforcement. We are to obey those people, leaders, and Laws that are good. No way are we to obey those who are bad, evil, and wrong. We are to die first if need be, not bow-down or give in.

There are many I would not let pat my dog, because part of what they have may come out and get on or enter my dog. This I say to their shame and disgrace, without honor.
Jimmie King
Gassaway, TN
Posted by oldgrapeape (48 comments )
Link Flag
Let's not forget: "Echelon" See: Google search: Echelon ( URL included )
<a class="jive-link-external" href=";ie=UTF-8&#38;rls=GGLG,GGLG:2006-06,GGLG:en&#38;q=Echelon" target="_newWindow">;ie=UTF-8&#38;rls=GGLG,GGLG:2006-06,GGLG:en&#38;q=Echelon</a>

Now, on the other hand, let's not forget about "Echelon" collects everything passing thru the ISP's pipes available for parameters upon which to search the captured data!

Gee, they already got everything they need(ed) or want(ed) ripe for the picking (searching) and it goes on everyday.

Now, what?
Posted by edgirard (15 comments )
Link Flag
Sorry, I did not kno you owned CNET
The facts are, common sense far out weights education and being able to look-up big words to go with big ideas that fits one's self-righteousness. The the Bible tells use about those who are wise, or think they are anyway. I don't claim to be wise or educated, just an America Christian that has both eyes to see what is taking place, and ears to hear what is being said. I guess the best place to start in the Bible is by understanding what Jesus said in Matthew 24:15, and work from there. Are you part of Government, the Justice System, or maybe a member of a Church found in John 10:2-3-?

I can see it no, the WHOLE World is Judged and Melted down by fire. But the holy and self-righteous United States still stands and remains all alone ruling nothing or no one. Gee, I don't want to be part of that one anyway, do you?
Jimmie King
Posted by oldgrapeape (48 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That was my point...
Look, I am not here to try and rake any argument across the coals, but education is important in any case. It is important when studying the Bible (2 Tim. 2:14-16), because we are called to be educated about the scriptures. Also, it is easy to be swayed by false doctrines if you are not well educated about scripture. A good example of that is the Church in America today, which has invented a self-serving God in their own image. We think God is here to make us happy, and that He even needs us on some level.

I said what I did about the U.S. because if you believe what Revelation says, then you would see we are in the age of Laodacea. We are an apathetic church. Look at Germany, Switzerland, England, Russia, or any of the other areas in Europe where the Christian church once thrived. They are dead, and we will be too one day. There is no such thing as an American Christian, only a Christian.

But please I urge you not to be so arrogant as to think that America is the country you need to be watching for signs of the end times. If you want to know, then you need to watch Israel. They ARE God's people, and He is still coming back for them. Try doing some research on the "6 Day War" and you will see what I mean. The prophecies in Matthew from Jesus are about that region, and about Israel and the Jews. While we can get a decent picture of what the Great Tribulation might be like, that is not us.
Posted by jwarren.carroll (84 comments )
Link Flag
All I can say is be sure to watch Aaron Russo's America FROM
FREEDOM TO FASCISM, which has been getting standing ovations
in pre-screenings across the country!

Watch the trailer here:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by libertyforall1776 (650 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is so right on target to the point!
What is said in "RUSSO'S AMERICA FROM FREEDOM TO FASCISM" is the truth.
It is a fact that the "We the People" have petitioned for redress of grievance(s) and the result is that the gov't has refused to answer.
We the People are in exactly the same position as our founding fore-fathers.
Posted by edgirard (15 comments )
Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.