Google Formally Tells Government to Back Off

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Lawyers for Google officially said the search engine would not be handing over its records Friday, arguing that the Justice Department had not proven such search engine data would help in the government’s attempt to revive the spirit of the Child Online Protection Act.

The government, which already has obtained similar data from Yahoo, MSN and AOL, has said it wants the data only as a means to gauge how many users search for child porn online, and that no personally identifiable data is being sought out. Civil liberties groups, including the ACLU, counter the move is just the tip of the iceberg masking what they perceive as the Bush administration’s plan of attack on free speech.

“The government is not entitled to go on a fishing expedition through millions of Google searches any time it wants, just because it claims that it needs that information,” ACLU staff attorney Aden Fine said in an official statement Monday. “Anyone asking a court to approve such an intrusive, burdensome request must explain why the information is needed and for what purpose. The government has refused to make its purpose known to the public or to the Court, and Google has rightly denied the government’s demand for this information.”

In court papers, attorneys for Google wrote that users of the service depended on privacy, and that relinquishing that privacy would result in a death knell for the popular services.

A January study concurs with the lawyers’ statements, as more than half of those surveyed by the privacy think tank Ponemon Institute said they would stop using Google if the company began handing over records.

“Google users trust that when they enter a search query into a Google search box, not only will they receive back the most relevant results, but that Google will keep private whatever information users communicate absent a compelling reason,” the lawyers wrote

The Justice Department has four days to respond to the filing.