Federal Court Hears Arguments in Google Case

Michael Hayes
SAN JOSE, Calif. – U.S. District Judge James Ware heard arguments Tuesday in a case that could have far-reaching Internet privacy considerations.

In an effort to salvage the 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA), the Department of Justice asked search engines like Google to turn over data regarding websites and searches. Initially the government sought 1 million random websites and a week’s worth of random search queries. However, at the hearing, attorneys for Google conceded that the government had narrowed its search to 50,000 websites and 5,000 searches.

Google lawyer Albert Gidari argued that even though the government had limited the scope of the inquiry, the data sought was still “irrelevant” to determining the effectiveness of child protection filters. While scaling back the scope of the request would be a technical victory for Google, the only search engine to fight the government’s case, the idea of the search engine being forced to comply at all raises concerns among some privacy advocates.

“The camel’s nose may be smaller, but it’s still sneaking under the tent,” Jim Harper, director of information-policy research at the Cato Institute, told MarketWatch.com. “The principle is the same.”

Ware, who said he was “likely to grant some relief to the government,” saw the issue differently. Speaking from the bench, Ware worried about public perception that the government might be looking into search habits of individual users.

While no ruling was issued, Ware did say to expect one “very soon.”