Google, DOJ Argue Over Search Data Today

Internet search giant Google and the U.S. Department of Justice formally face off in U.S. district court today. At issue: the DOJ subpoena for Google search data in an effort to support its separate defense of the 1998 Child Online Protection Act.

After substantial negotiations with Google, the Justice Department subpoenaed the company for a list of 1 million random Web addresses included in Google’s search index, as well as one week’s worth of search stings submitted to Google’s search service. The Justice Department isn’t soliciting any additional information (such as IP numbers) which could be used to associate particular queries with specific Internet users and locations (although some queries, perhaps for names, addresses, and events, undoubtedly reveal a great deal about some searchers).

Google has refused to comply, arguing the request is overly broad, violates the privacy of its users, does nothing to further the government’s case, and violates the company’s trade secrets. Google is the only major search engine to refuse to turn over data in response to DOJ subpoenas on this matter; Microsoft and Yahoo previously indicated they complied with DOJ requests without protest.

The Justice Department says it needs the search data to demonstrate how often everyday Web users encounter material which could be deemed harmful to minors in the course of normal Internet use.

Privacy advocates have lauded Google’s stance, but emphasize that the case highlights the government is seeking greater access to Internet records of individuals, much as it can now subpoena medical records and even individuals’ library lending histories. Conservatives and religious organizations criticize Google for failing to help the federal government curb online exploitation of children.