Google Heads to Court to Protect Users

Google will face off against the United States government in a federal court on February 22 over whether the Department of Justice can force the search giant to turn over records from its database. The conflict stems from a subpoena demanding information on searches, which Google refused to comply with citing privacy concerns.

The government is attempting to gather data to support a child protection law that was struck down two years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court. Under that law, the government could punish pornography sites that made content easily accessible to minors.

Google competitors Yahoo, AOL and MSN have already turned over search data to the government. However, Google contends that supplying the information would violate the privacy of its users, as well as divulge trade secrets that could help its competitors.

In an effort to allay customer fears, MSN publicly explained its position in a blog posting earlier this week. The company said it worked hard to limit the request to data that followed its principals of protecting customer privacy, and that, "Absolutely no personal data was involved."

But privacy advocates fear that such moves could set a dangerous precedent and enable the U.S. government to go "fishing" for data on individuals without proper cause. The Bush administration is already in hot water over revelations that it has been spying domestically without court approval.

San Jose, Calif. U.S. District Judge James Ware asked Google to submit a legal brief with arguments by February 6, with the Justice Department slated to respond by February 13. The DOJ is asking for a random sampling of 1 million search queries from Google and 1 million IP addresses.

"The production of those materials would be of significant assistance to the government's preparation of its defense of the constitutionality of this important statute," the government said in its initial legal filing.

Google officials said they would fight the request, and called it "overreaching."

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