Judge Likely to Order Google Data Turnover

In court yesterday, U.S. District Judge James Ware told a hearing he was concerned about the perception the Department of Justice’s subpoena for search data from Internet giant Google created a perception that Internet user’s privacy was being undermined. Nonetheless, Judge Ware said he was inclined to provide some relief to the government, and responded positively when the government further scaled back the amount of search data it wants Google to hand over, and added he expected to make a decision on the case “very quickly.”

The Department of Justice had previously demanded Google turn over the URLs of one million sites indexed in the Google search engine, as well as one week’s worth of query strings. Yesterday, the government said it wanted just 50,000 URLs and roughly 5,000 search strings. The government wants to use the data to understand how everyday users access the Internet and to evaluate the effectiveness of filtering technologies designed to protect children from harmful or obscene online content.

After the hearing, Google associate general counsel Nicole Wong characterized the government’s re-statement of demands as a response to Google’s confrontation: “When the government was asked to justify their demand, they conceded they needed much less.” For its part, Google acknowledged the reduced government request represents a smaller potentially privacy threat than the governments initial demand, but still maintains the data is of limited or no use to the government’s study.

Privacy advocates laud Google for taking the DOJ to court over the issue, while at the same time lamenting that Google will apparently be forced to turn over data to the government. Others characterize Google’s resistance as standing in the way of protecting children from online exploitation.