Google Lashes Out Against Justice Department Subpoena

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Google formally opposed the Justice Department's subpoena Feb. 17 that called on the search giant to hand over search data. In its formal rejection of the subpoena filed with a federal judge in San Jose, CA, Google accused prosecutors of a "cavalier attitude" and said the request violates users' rights to privacy and could lead to the exposure of the company's closely guarded trade secrets.


The response came after the Justice Department asked a judge last month to force Google to hand over a random sample of 1 million Web pages. The Bush administration requested the data to use it to prevent child pornography from being viewed online.


In its brief, Google argued that simply knowing the Web addresses in its index would not let the government determine which contained pornographic material because a Web page's content can change daily. The company also described what it does to protect its algorithms from competitors, including not revealing how many computers it uses to run the search engine, type of users' browsers, number of queries it processes in a day and nature of the search strings users type in.


"Google users trust that when they enter a search query into a Google search box, not only will they receive back the most relevant results, but that Google will keep private whatever information users communicate absent a compelling reason," the company wrote in its brief. "The government's demand for disclosure of untold millions of search queries submitted by Google users and for production of a million Web page addresses or 'URLs' randomly selected from Google's proprietary index would undermine that trust, unnecessarily burden Google and do nothing to further the government's case in the underlying action."


AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo voluntarily complied with similar requests.


The American Civil Liberties Union filed a 10-page brief supporting Google, saying the government's explanation is "too vague" regarding why it needed the searches to justify a court order.


"The government is not entitled to go on a fishing expedition through millions of Google searches anytime it wants just because it claims it needs that information," ACLU staff attorney Aden Fine said in a statement. "Google has rightly denied the government's demand."


The ACLU also said that if the Justice Department wins the release of Google's search data, it will file its own subpoena for Google data to assess the reliability of the random sampling.


A hearing has been set for March 13.


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