Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc. responded Thursday after the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC) submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to government officials seeking information about whether the FBI was considering the "possible use of Google's Gmail service for law enforcement and intelligence investigations."
Google, the largest search engine with an index of more than 4 billion web pages, launched a beta version of Gmail this month.
The free email service with a storage capacity of up to 8 billion bits of information, or the equivalent of 500,000 pages of email, has been embroiled in controversy since the get-go because it indexes email based on key terms contained within the content of the message.
Email is one of the most popular features of the Internet. According to International Data Corp., there are about 419 million consumer email users worldwide, up from 38 million in 1997.
Google has proposed one service that would allow advertisers to target commercial ads to Internet users based on the key terms contained within their private communications.
EPIC, a privacy lobby group, announced the request immediately after Google said it was filing for an initial public offering on Thursday.
“We are interested to know whether any federal agency has considered the use of the Gmail service to further law enforcement investigations or intelligence gathering activities by, for example, targeting advertising to Internet users that could lead to the collection of evidence or intelligence by a federal agency,” EPIC wrote to the FBI in its claim for expedited processing of the FOIA.
The group’s request also asked whether Google had discussed licensing its search technology to the FBI "to further law enforcement investigations or intelligence gathering activities." Google spokesman Nathan Tyler told reporters that he could not “confirm whether they're using our technology"