Justice Department sued by EFF over Google privacy official

The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently took aim at the Department of Justice, wanting all communications between Google and a former top privacy official who now works for the Mountain View-based Internet search giant.

Specifically, the EFF wants to know more about why Jane Horvath was chosen to become the company's senior privacy lawyer, and what may have influenced the decision.

?In February 2006, Horvath was appointed the Chief Privacy and Civil Liberties Officer of the DoJ, and held that position until August 2007, when she announced she would leave the DOJ position to join Google and serve as Senior Privacy Counsel.

Also in 2006, the DOJ requested Google turn over information of every item searched for using Google for one week. Google declined the request, and agreed to turn over 5,000 random search queries during the one week time frame. According to the EFF, Horvath was "publicly critical" of the first DOJ subpoena, claiming there were privacy concerns with such a large request.

The EFF first asked for the information using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) at least six months ago, at the same time Horvath was preparing to leave the DOJ, but no data was turned over to the EFF. Now, a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia accuses the DOJ of violating the FOIA by not turning over the requested information in a timely manner.

"Google has an unprecedented ability to collect and retain very personal information about millions of Americans, and the DOJ and other law enforcement agencies have developed a huge appetite for that information," EFF Senior Counsel David Sobel said in a statement. "We want to know what discussions DOJ's top privacy lawyer had with Google before leaving her government position to join the company."

"Google did not work with Jane Horvath on this when she was at (the) Department of Justice," a Google spokesperson told BetaNews.

While it's possible Google feels like there is nothing to turn over since it reportedly did not work with Horvath directly, the EFF could have still filed a lawsuit even if Horvath wasn't hired by Google. The organization is concerned about the amount of information Horvath may have had access to before heading to Google.

The EFF wants all records of correspondence, including e-mail, phone calls, and other communications between Google and Horvath to be released immediately.

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