The US government in the form of the Justice Department wants Google, the Internet search giant, to hand over search data, related to children accessing pornographic sites. It claims that the data is necessary for it to prevent children from visiting the undesirable adult-only websites, as its actions will be more effective than software filters.
Earlier the US Supreme Court had said no to a 1998 law that placed the onus on adult-only websites to check the ages of online visitors before granting them access. The Court said that law was so broad that it could deny adults legitimate access to such sites.
Alberto Gonzales, the US Attorney-General, decided that the other way around that overturned law was to obtain the search data directly from Google. He filed a legal motion to make Google hand over a week's worth of data on online searches by Internet users. Originally his department had asked for 6 months’ worth of data.
Google told the US Justice Department to bugger off, saying it intends to resist their motion vigorously. Google stores user information in a single tracking ’cookie’ that could hold personal data, which if released to the US government, could lead to a typical Big Brother situation.
Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum supported Google’s stand, saying:
"If Google loses this, what is to stop the US government from making constant requests for all sorts of things, such as searches on terrorism or any company they are investigating? Google could become the greatest research tool for the government that anyone ever envisioned. I certainly don't blame Google for fighting this."
Beth Givens, director of the non-profit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego, California, said:
"These search engines are a very tempting target for government and law enforcement. Look at the millions of people who use search engines without thinking of the potential to be drawn into a government drag net."
However, Yahoo, another search giant had already complied with a similar subpoena, but claimed that it was only on a limited basis and did not provide any personally identifiable information.
So, watch it, because next time you search for stuff like 'how to make a nuclear bomb' together with 'contacts for Osama bin Laden', your name could well be with Big Brother, like mine probably is ;-)