Judge: Google will have to turn over index excerpts

But user search terms are unlikely to be included in the order, District Judge James Ware hinted in a hearing today.
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor

A federal judge will "very quickly" order Google to comply with at least part of the Justice Dept.'s subpoena of excerpts of Google's index of Web sites, News.com reports. While US District Judge James Ware was reluctant to give the government everything it wanted, the fact that the Justice Dept. reduced its request from 1 million site listings to 50,000, and is willing to compensate the search company for its programmers time convinced him that Google should show the government parts of its Web index.

Ware said he was reluctant to give the Justice Department everything it wanted because of the "perception by the public that this is subject to government scrutiny" when they type search terms into Google.com.

The judge was concerned about the effect of granting the subpoena on Google and its users' privacy.

During the hearing, which lasted about 90 minutes, Google's lawyer, Al Gidari, stressed that there is an alternative for the Justice Department's social science research, which is designed to show the flaws of filtering software and defend an antipornography law in court.

"They can go to Alexa," Godari said. "They have 4 billion URLs." Godari said that Alexa Internet, which is owned by Amazon.com, is a site that offers Web analytics services that can produce similar information "without entangling us in litigation going forward." That point was raised repeatedly by Ware, who seemed concerned that if he granted the request, "a slew of trial attorneys and curious social scientists could follow suit."

"Now Google could face hundreds of university professors (saying), 'I've got a study I'd like you to conduct,'" Ware said.

Google cautioned the judge about the effects of turning over users' search terms to the government, AP reported.

Indicating he was thinking about only granting part of the government's request, Ware asked Gidari if Google would rather hand over the Web site addresses or a list of people's search requests. Without providing a definitive answer, Gidari said Google believed an order requiring the company to surrender people's search requests would have a ``chilling effect'' on the Internet.

Editorial standards