TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: US Google Set to Face Off in Court

US Google Set to Face Off in Court

Michael Liedtke (
Mon, 13 Mar 2006 23:42:53 -0600

By MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Business Writer

The Bush administration will renew its effort to find out what people
have been looking for on Google Inc.'s Internet-leading search engine,
continuing a legal showdown over how much of the Web's vast databases
should be shared with the government.

Lawyers for the Justice Department and Google are expected to
elaborate on their opposing views in a San Jose hearing scheduled
Tuesday before U.S. District Court Judge James Ware.

It will mark the first time the Justice Department and Google have
sparred in court since the government subpoenaed the Mountain-View,
Calif.-based company last summer in an effort to obtain a long list of
search requests and Web site addresses.

The government believes the requested information will help bolster
its arguments in another case in Pennsylvania, where the Bush
administration hopes to revive a law designed to make it more
difficult for children to see online pornography.

Google has refused to cooperate, maintaining that the government's
demand threatens its users' privacy as well as its own closely guarded
trade secrets.

The Justice Department has downplayed Google's concerns, arguing it
doesn't want any personal information nor any data that would
undermine the company's thriving business.

The case has focused attention on just how much personal information
is stored by popular Web sites like Google -- and the potential for
that data to attract the interest of the government and other parties.

Although the Justice Department says it doesn't want any personal
information now, a victory over Google in the case would likely
encourage far more invasive requests in the future, said University of
Connecticut law professor Paul Schiff Berman, who specializes in
Internet law.

"The erosion of privacy tends to happen incrementally," Berman
said. "While no one intrusion may seem that big, over the course of
the next decade or two, you might end up in a place as a society where
you never thought you would be."

Google seized on the case to underscore its commitment to privacy
rights and differentiate itself from the Internet's other major search
engines -- Yahoo Inc. , Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and Time Warner Inc.'s
America Online. All three say they complied with the Justice
Department's request without revealing their users' personal

Cooperating with the government "is a slippery slope and it's a path
we shouldn't go down," Google co-founder Sergey Brin told industry
analysts earlier this month. Brin said, "We are just not going to go
along with it; too dangerous to go along."

Even as it defies the Bush administration, Google recently bowed to
the demands of China's Communist government by agreeing to censor its
search results in that country so it would have better access to the
world's fastest growing Internet market. Google's China capitulation
has been harshly criticized by some of the same people cheering the
company's resistance to the Justice Department subpoena.

The Justice Department initially demanded a month of search requests
from Google, but subsequently decided a week's worth of requests would
be enough. In its legal briefs, the Justice Department has indicated
it might be willing to narrow its request even further.

Ultimately, the government plans to select a random sample of 1,000
search requests previously made at Google and re-enter them in the
search engine, according to a sworn declaration by Philip Stark, a
statistics professor at the University of California, Berkeley who is
helping the Justice Department in the case.

The government believes the test will show how easily it is to get
around the filtering software that's supposed to prevent children from
seeing sexually explicit material on the Web.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

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