by

By Alan Elsner
Reuters

Friday, January 20, 2006; 1:45 PM

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/20/AR2006012000
996_pf.html

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Right-to-privacy groups said on Friday an
attempt by
the Bush administration to force Google Inc. to turn over a broad
range of
materials from its databases set a dangerous precedent that should
worry
all Americans.

“This is the camel’s nose under the tent for using search engines and
all
kinds of data aggregators as surveillance tools,” said Jim Harper of
the
libertarian Cato Institute who also runs Privacilla.org, an Internet
privacy database.

The Bush administration is already under fire from a number of rights
groups over security measures it has taken since the September 11,
2001
attacks on America, including pursuing checks on library records and
eavesdropping on some telephone calls.

In court papers filed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Jose,
the
Justice Department stated that Google had refused to comply with a
subpoena
issued last year for one million random Web addresses from Google’s
databases as well as records of all searches entered on Google during
any
one-week period.

The government said it needed the information to prepare its case to
revive
the 1998 Child Online Protection Act, which the Supreme Court blocked
from
taking effect two years ago.

The law prohibited Internet companies from knowingly making available
obscene or pornographic material to minors. The Supreme Court said
there
were potential constitutional problems with the law and sent the case
back
to a lower court for consideration. It is expected to be heard later
this year.

The Justice Department said on Friday that America Online, Yahoo and
Microsoft had all complied with similar requests.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales rejected concerns that the subpoena
might
violate individual privacy rights.

“We’re not asking for the identity of Americans. We simply want to
have
some subject matter information with respect to these communications.
This
is important for the Department of Justice and we will pursue this
matter,”
he told reporters.

A Google spokesperson said the company objected to the breadth of the
government’s request but did not consider it to be a privacy issue
since
the search terms would not include personally identifiable details.

BILL TO BE INTRODUCED

But others were not reassured. Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey, the
ranking Democrat on the telecommunications subcommittee of the House
Energy
and Commerce Committee, said he would introduce a bill to strengthen
consumers’ Internet privacy by prohibiting the storage of personally
identifiable information Internet searches beyond a reasonable time.

“Internet search engines provide an extraordinary service, but the
preservation of that service does not rely on a bottomless, timeless
database that can do great damage despite good intentions,” Markey
said.

Chris Jay Hoofnagle of the Electronic Privacy Information Center
worried
that the government could follow up its initial request with a demand
for
more information.

“If Google hands over the search logs and the Justice Department finds
search strings like ‘child porn’ or ‘naked children,’ could they not
then
go back and ask Google for the user’s Internet address?” he said.

Ari Schwartz of the Center for Democracy and Technology said he was
glad
Google was fighting the case but the company needed to make privacy a
more
fundamental part of its products. He said the case was a wake-up call
to
all Internet users that information was being collected on them all
the
time and was stored indefinitely.

Danny Sullivan, an Internet consultant who created Search Engine
Watch,
said in a posting on his site: “Such a move absolutely should breed
some
paranoia. They didn’t ask for data this time, but next time, they
might.”

On the other side, the Cincinnati-based National Coalition for
Protection
of Children and Families, a Christian fundamentalist group, said
search
companies should be willing to help the government defend children
from
pornography.

“I’m disappointed Google did not want to exercise its good corporate
branding to secure the protection of youth,” said Jack Samad, the
group’s
senior vice president.


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