In an attempt to measure the amount of child pornography on the Internet and to defend the 1998 Child Online Protection Act, which is being challenged in court in Philadelphia by the American Civil Liberties Union, federal prosecutors have subpoenaed Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and America Online to hand over millions of search records.
Without hesitation, Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL chose to comply with the US Government's request rather than fight their subpoena in court. Google, however, denied the fed's demands and is more than prepared to give the Bush administration hell before ever complying with such a request.
Is Google Being Stubborn?
The question that everyone seems to be asking is should Google be so defensive with their search data considering what is at stake? Many feel that the company should want to exercise their good corporate image and hand deliver such information, especially if it means protecting children from online predators. Google's records from search logs would help officials understand the behavior of web users and estimate how frequently they encounter pornography. For instance, Internet addresses obtained from the search engines could be tested against filtering programs to evaluate their effectiveness.
Is The Government Asking Too Much?
On the other side of the coin, one has to ask if Google is doing right by protecting their search data and ultimately their search users. Although the government is not asking for Internet addresses that would identify people, Google fears that disclosing search terms and data would invade on its user's privacy. It's quite simple, the more our government is able to figure out, regarding whom the search engine surfers are, the more people's First Amendment rights are in jeopardy.
I'm very hesitant to choose a side in this ongoing debate, but currently I am in favor of Google taking a stand. Personally, I believe that this isn't a case of who is searching what. Instead, I believe this to be a case of fishing into business structure records to try and find criminals. The US Government has already gone to the extremes with recent phone-tappings... providing them with personal and private search data would be just as violating.
Obviously, I am against child porn and do understand how serious of a matter it is. However, personal privacy and First Amendment rights are also important. It just seems to me that our government was unable to find child porn abusers using their own methods, and now wish for data that could get every single web user sued for something. Also, let's not forget that Google created a business, buys bandwidth, employs people and this is their data and their business. The Government needs to figure out how to fight this without bullying companies into giving over data such as this.