DOJ Won’t Get Google Search Queries

In a 20-page decision, U.S. District Judge James Ware ruled Google must turn over the URLs of 50,000 randomly selected sites included in its search database, but does not have to turn over 5,000 search queries submitted by users.

The Department of Justice, preparing to defend the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) in an unrelated case, subpoenaed search records from Google, America Online, Yahoo, and Microsoft to assess how everyday Internet users access information and the degree to which the data they located could be deemed harmful to minors. Initially, the Justice Department demanded “billions” of URLs and two months’ worth of user search queries; after discussions, Google still refused to fulfill the government’s reduced demands for 1 million URLs and a week’s worth of user search queries. Google argued the data wouldn’t be useful to the government’s case, and that the subpoena violated both Google’s trade secrets and its users’ privacy.

Although the government wasn’t asking for personally identifiable information (such as the IP numbers associated with search requests), Google is still hailing the decision as a victory for users’ privacy: “As we noted in our briefing to the court, we believe that if the government was permitted to require Google to hand over search queries, that could have undermined confidence that our users have in our ability to keep their information private. Because we resisted the subpoena, the Department of Justice will not receive any search queries and only a small fraction of the URLs it originally requested.”

Google intends to comply fully with Judge Ware’s ruling.