T Nation

Google Denies Bush Access


So I'm sitting here just going over the "Curls in the Squat Rack" thread, trying to calm down about politics lately. But it just gets better and better.

Google rebuffs feds over access to search data
Bush administration wants details of what users look for

Updated: 8:24 p.m. ET Jan. 19, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO - Google Inc. is rebuffing the Bush administration?s demand for a peek at what millions of people have been looking up on the Internet?s leading search engine ? a request that underscores the potential for online databases to become tools for government surveillance.

Mountain View-based Google has refused to comply with a White House subpoena first issued last summer, prompting U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales this week to ask a federal judge in San Jose for an order to hand over the requested records.

The government wants a list all requests entered into Google?s search engine during an unspecified single week ? a breakdown that could conceivably span tens of millions of queries. In addition, it seeks 1 million randomly selected Web addresses from various Google databases.

In court papers that the San Jose Mercury News reported on after seeing them Wednesday, the Bush administration depicts the information as vital in its effort to restore online child protection laws that have been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yahoo Inc., which runs the Internet?s second-most used search engine behind Google, confirmed Thursday that it had complied with a similar government subpoena.

Although the government says it isn?t seeking any data that ties personal information to search requests, the subpoena still raises serious privacy concerns, experts said. Those worries have been magnified by recent revelations that the White House authorized eavesdropping on civilian communications after the Sept. 11 attacks without obtaining court approval.

?Search engines now play such an important part in our daily lives that many people probably contact Google more often than they do their own mother,? said Thomas Burke, a San Francisco attorney who has handled several prominent cases involving privacy issues.

?Just as most people would be upset if the government wanted to know how much you called your mother and what you talked about, they should be upset about this, too.?
The content of search request sometimes contain information about the person making the query.

For instance, it?s not unusual for search requests to include names, medical profiles or Social Security information, said Pam Dixon, executive director for the World Privacy Forum.

?This is exactly the kind of thing we have been worrying about with search engines for some time,? Dixon said. ?Google should be commended for fighting this.?

Other search engines complied
Every other search engine served similar subpoenas by the Bush administration has complied so far, according to court documents. The cooperating search engines weren?t identified.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo stressed that it didn?t reveal any personal information. ?We are rigorous defenders of our users? privacy,? Yahoo spokeswoman Mary Osako said Thursday. ?In our opinion, this is not a privacy issue.?

Microsoft Corp.'s MSN, the No. 3 search engine, declined to say whether it even received a similar subpoena. ?MSN works closely with law enforcement officials worldwide to assist them when requested,? the company said in a statement.

(MSNBC.com content is distributed by MSN. MSNBC.com itself is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

As the Internet?s dominant search engine, Google has built up a valuable storehouse of information that ?makes it a very attractive target for law enforcement,? said Chris Hoofnagle, senior counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The Department of Justice argues that Google?s cooperation is essential in its effort to simulate how people navigate the Web.

In a separate case in Pennsylvania, the Bush administration is trying to prove that Internet filters don?t do an adequate job of preventing children from accessing online pornography and other objectionable destinations.

Obtaining the subpoenaed information from Google ?would assist the government in its efforts to understand the behavior of current Web users, (and) to estimate how often Web users encounter harmful-to-minors material in the course of their searches,? the Justice Department wrote in a brief filed Wednesday

Google ? whose motto when it went public in 2004 was ?do no evil? ? contends that submitting to the subpoena would represent a betrayal to its users, even if all personal information is stripped from the search terms sought by the government.

?Google?s acceding to the request would suggest that it is willing to reveal information about those who use its services. This is not a perception that Google can accept,? company attorney Ashok Ramani wrote in a letter included in the government?s filing.

Complying with the subpoena also would threaten to expose some of Google?s ?crown-jewel trade secrets,? Ramani wrote. Google is particularly concerned that the information could be used to deduce the size of its index and how many computers it uses to crunch the requests.

?This information would be highly valuable to competitors or miscreants seeking to harm Google?s business,? Ramani wrote.

Dixon is hoping Google?s battle with the government reminds people to be careful how they interact with search engines.

?When you are looking at that blank search box, you should remember that what you fill can come back to haunt you unless you take precautions,? she said.



This is a tough issue.

Should Google protect child porn? Should the government try to stop it?

Damned if they do, damned if they don't.


Do I get to predict the responses to this, or do I have to wait until this thread reaches at least three insults and a guest appearance by cheerleader phenom, JeffR?


Honestly, I don't think President Bush cares about this too much - though apparently some people relatively high up in the DOJ do.

It would seem that either the DOJ is being lazy, or for some reason they think they need a very large data sample to get results.

To steal and paraphrase an observation from Prof. Dan Drezner, the DOJ wants to show that online searches lead to porn sites coming up when they weren't the object of the searches. The best way to show this would be to retrieve a random sample of actual searches. However, it seems like the DOJ could commission some social scientist to do the research for them that was almost the same thing. It would not be hard for a researcher to run an experiment to gather this kind of data, and the results would be just as useful.


Right. But at what point do they become the thought police, going after people for looking up the wrong things?

The government has every right to step in and do the sting operations like they do for the sick bastards looking at kiddie porn...but to see what websites everyone looks up?

I am glad they did it...the potential politcal consequences of having the party in power being able to check search engines is alot scarier than child pornography (though there's not much worse than that).


go for it Nostradamus!


Why only JeffR? There will be a few others as well.


This has nothing to do with child porn, and everything to do with the DoJ's vendetta against (currently) legal pornography. If you've been keeping track of Gonzalez's (and Ashcroft's before him) attempts to prosecute mail-order porn companies in jurisdictions with more rigorous "community standards," you'll notice this is just an extension of that agenda.

In fact, the whole reason they want this is because of the Child Online Protection Act that was struck down by SCOTUS for being too broad, and blocking legitimate access of porn to adults. The SCOTUS basically said that the federal government could rework the Act to make it less broad, and try again. Unfortunately, the people who passed it originally, and the current administration, don't LIKE that option. As such, they're somehow trying to prove that the Act isn't unconstitutional by showing that there's an overwhelming problem with children searching for innocuous terms and downloading porn instead. Do they really care about "the children?" I don't think so.


It is nothing but a distraction for the base and the MSM.

Clinton started it and the GOP has kept it going.


This is crap! It is an invasion of privacy to do such a global non-specific search as this. Hopeful the courts will figure that out and shut Bush down.


It's probably not an invasion of privacy, as there is no information tying the searches to the users who made them. It is, however, an undue burden on google to have to present the DoJ with this kind of information for what are, essentially, legislative purposes.

In the real world, the DoJ would have to pay Google as a consultant to provide information, and would not attempt to strongarm them into working for free.


Bravo man!


This is true. One of the problems with agencies is that career bureaucrats control a lot of the details, and a lot of stuff that isn't high-level policy doesn't change much between administrations.


Unless they scrubbed the IP addresses, they'd be able to know pretty much who searched for what.

With most high speed DSL/Cable setups, your IP address doesn't change very often, if at all.

I don't know the details of what was requested, but the government should be forced to do it's own research, to determine what results are returned for various search terms.

However, I suspect that Google doesn't want to tell the world, explicitly, that 80% of searches are for words like, pussy, naked women, hot sex, free sex and so on.


Hey, I only search for that 70% of the time.


I wonder what would happen if one were to type in "I hate Bush" or "Bush sucks" in some of those search engines who did comply?

I felt more free when I was in Singapore.

FUCK POLITICIANS! All they want to do is control people.

They're power-hungry, back-stabbing, lying, brainwashing, heartless, selfish, greedy maggots with superiority complexes who herd their uneducated sheep into giving up their freedoms for some highly overrated 'security'.

I wouldn't be surprised if it were later found out that politicians work hand-in-hand with terrorist organizations to get the public to be more 'understanding' in why their Government should control, I mean, protect them.


Hey, hey...they are Conservatives and as such should be trusted with our lives and freedoms. How dare you.


The top 100 searches in Google is a hilarious list.


If this extends beyond child porn than it should be opposed.

The government is always trying to extend it's powers.

Sometimes it is the right thing but often it is not.

It is interesting if it is true that or something similar was started under Clinton's admin yet the MSM and many of the posters try to solely lay the blame on Bush's admin.

Go on Google, keep protecting my privacy! Please also do the reponsible thing and squeal on the child pornographers so that cannot be used as an excuse.


What mentality causes you to look at this current action...and think "Clinton"?