Google balks at fed request for millions of search records

News.com reports that Google is going to the mat against Justice Dept. subpoenas for search records.
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor

Privacy advocates see it as proof of just how misguided Google's aggressive data retention policies are. Google has records of your search queries, your emails if you use Gmail, your clickthroughs on ads, and has cookies lasting decades all over your PC. The concern has typically been how Google might use that information. But now as News.com reports that the Justice Dept. is subpoening millions of search records and that Google is fighting back, advocates say this is exactly what's wrong with Google's policies. The story so far, as reported by cnet's Declan McCullagh and Elinor Mills:

In court documents filed Wednesday, the Bush administration asked a federal judge in San Jose, Calif., to force Google to comply with a subpoena for the information, which would reveal the search terms of a broad swath of the search engine's visitors.

Prosecutors are requesting a "random sampling" of 1 million Internet addresses accessible through Google's popular search engine, and a random sampling of 1 million search queries submitted to Google over a one-week period.

Google said in a statement sent to CNET News.com on Thursday that it will resist the request "vigorously." ... Google lawyer Ashok Ramani objected to the Justice Department's request on the grounds that it could disclose trade secrets and was "overbroad, unduly burdensome, vague and intended to harass."

It couldn't have been too much of a surprise to Googlers that the government might demand their famously broad records, says EPIC's Sherwin Siy. Investigation via business records is a tried and true strategy.

[Siy] praised Google for fighting the administration's request. However, he said there would not even be an issue if the search engine hadn't collected the information and made it aggregatable in the first place.

"This continual aggregation of people's search streams and all this information and the other data from their other services like Gmail places privacy at risk. This is something you would think Google should have anticipated," he said. "It is not a recent phenomenon that overbroad government investigations will put people's privacy at risk by digging through business records."



Editorial standards