eWeek has a story about how Microsoft has unequivocally stated that no personal data was handed over during a recent DOJ inquiry:
The Microsoft admission, in a recent blog by MSN Search Dev & Test General Manager Ken Moss, assures MSN search users that "absolutely no personal data" changed hands. ....In the blog, Moss said Microsoft gave the DOJ a random sample of pages from the MSN search index, which is what MSN Search customers plumb during their search inquiries.....More controversially, Microsoft also provided "some aggregated query logs that listed queries and how often they occurred." Put another way, it's a look at the key words MSN search customers entered over an extended period of time.
To some extent, it's reassuring that Microsoft didn't hand over anything personally identifiable. On the other hand, the major issue here (as I noted the other day) is the way the DOJ is raiding databases outside of the context of any specific instance of wrongdoing. It's not searching for the smoking gun in a particular crime. At best, it's doing the equivalent of a door to door search in hopes of discovering that a crime may have been committed -- not the typical sort of evidence that the authorities are supposed to be going after. The more I think about it, the more I wonder what choice the DOJ would have but to go back to the search engines for more data -- this time, personally identifiable data -- if it sees something in doesn't like.
We use the Net under the assumption that the Feds aren't trolling the databases of search engines and ISPs that reflect our collective online behavior in hopes of finding a haystack with a needle in it. I occasionally receive e-mail from Internet users who have inadvertently encoutered porn (who doesn't this happen to?) and who wonder if the next thing to happen might be a visit from the authorities. This is why Google did the right thing when it said no. Between Google's standing up to the DOJ and BellSouth, has the company become the last defender of the open and free Internet?