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DOJ's Request for Search Data

In August 2005, Google was served with a subpoena from the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) demanding disclosure of two full months’ worth of search queries that Google received from its users, as well as all the URLs in Google’s index. Google objected to the subpoena, which started a set of legal procedures that put the issue before the Federal courts (see: 1984 is now! Google fights US Government). Google's response to the Department of Justice's motion to the court to force the search engine to comply with the subpoena, can be found here.

The ACLU urged the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to rule in favor of Google’s effort to block the government’s subpoena for information about its customers’ online behavior.  “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,” said ACLU staff attorney Aden Fine. “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.” See Plaintiffs' Response to Motion to Compel Google

In a declaration the Justice Department rejected Google's privacy concerns, noting that the government specifically requested that Google remove any identifying information from the search requests. The paper also stated that the nature and depth of the requested information would do little to threaten Google's closely guarded trade secrets. Nonetheless, government attorneys greatly reduced the scope of their request to only 50,000 Web addresses and 5,000 search terms.

After 90 minutes spent hearing the DOJ and Google arguments on March 12, Judge Ware said, “It is my intent to grant some relief to the government.” And so he did a few days later: According to the ruling Google has to hand over 50,000 Web addresses from its search index, but has not to reveal terms its users had been searching for. In a 21-page ruling, Judge James Ware said the privacy considerations of Google users led him to deny part of the Justice Department's request.

"What his ruling means is that neither the Government nor anyone else has carte blanche when demanding data from internet companies," Nicole Wong, Google's associate general counsel, said in a statement on the company's website. The full comment is at

A study conducted by the University of Connecticut showed that "only 13% of the public feel “extremely” or “very” confident that the search behavior collected by Internet companies will remain private."





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