US demands Google user information

The Bush Administration has demanded that Google Inc provide details on what its users have been looking for through its popular search engine.

Google has refused to comply with the subpoena, issued last year, for a broad range of material from its databases, including a request for 1 million random web addresses and records of all Google searches from any one-week period, according to lawyers for the US Justice Department in papers filed yesterday in a San Jose court.

Privacy advocates have been increasingly scrutinising Google’s practices as the company expands its offerings to include email, driving directions, photo-sharing, instant messaging and Web journals.

Although Google pledges to protect personal information, the company’s privacy policy says it complies with legal and government requests. Google also has no stated guidelines on how long it keeps data, leading critics to warn that retention is potentially forever given cheap storage costs.

The US government contends it needs the data to determine how often pornography shows up in online searches, as part of an effort to revive an internet child protection law that was struck down two years ago by the US Supreme Court on free-speech grounds.

The 1998 Child Online Protection Act would have required adults to use access codes or other ways of registering before they could see objectionable material online, and it would have punished violators with fines of up to $50,000 or time in prison. The high court ruled that technology such as filtering software may better protect children.

The matter is now before a federal court in Pennsylvania, and the government wants the Google data to help argue that the law is more effective than software in protecting children from porn.

The Mountain View-based company told The San Jose Mercury News that it opposes releasing the information because it would violate the privacy rights of its users and would reveal company trade secrets.

Nicole Wong, an associate general counsel for Google, said the company will fight the government’s efforts “vigorously.”

“Google is not a party to this lawsuit, and the demand for the information is overreaching,” Wong said.

  • Click to stay connected with more stories like this
  • Sign up here to receive news by email. Once per day, no spam.

Most Read in Ireland