Google takes on the Justice Department

News & Politics

In getting ready to defend a controversial porn law in court (the Child Online Protection Act), the Justice Department has demanded that major search engines supply information about searches performed on their engines during June and July 2005. Whenever the government demands this kind of information, it's a little scary -- one has no real way of knowing what kind of information is being turned over, and ultimately how it's going to be used.

Three of the four engines rolled over and gave up their info to the Justice Department, but Google is refusing to comply.'s Declan McCullagh has supplied an excellent FAQ about the whole situation; here's one of the excerpts:

Q: The subpoena came from the Justice Department's civil division. Will the attorneys there share the data with their colleagues at the department's criminal division or the FBI?

No law would appear to prohibit them from doing so. A protective order does say that only Justice Department attorneys "who have a need" for the information may receive it.

If the disclosed search logs show evidence of criminal activity, that language may be vague enough to let prosecutors return with a second subpoena to demand the identification of one or more Internet addresses linked with those search terms. Terror-related searches are another likely area of information-sharing--President Bush likes to talk about how "law enforcement officers should not be denied vital information their own colleagues already have."

There has, however, been no evidence that the Justice Department has or has not done this to date.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has more.

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