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Google Rebuffs U.S. Demand for Search Data

By STAFF, Jan. 21, 2006

Photo: Google founders, Larry Page (left) and Sergey Brin

Google Inc. says it will 'vigorously' fight the Bush administration's demand that it turn over information about what searches users have been asking it to perform.

The government wants a list of all requests entered into Google's search engine during an unspecified week. With an average of 70 million searches per day, that could mean tens of millions of search requests.

The White House also wants one million randomly selected Web addresses from various databases of the world's leading search engine.

The request was first made last summer. Google refused to comply, prompting U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales this week to ask a judge for a court order to force a handover of the requested records.

In an official statement, Nicole Wong, Google's associate general counsel, said: 'Google is not a party to this lawsuit and their demand for information overreaches.'

'We had lengthy discussions with them to try to resolve this, but were not able to and we intend to resist their motion vigorously.'

The Bush administration says it needs the information in order to revive the 1998 Child Online Protection Act (C.O.P.A.) which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court on grounds it violated the First Amendment.

What Google is most opposed to is the breadth of the government's request. The California-based company also says the information could reveal trade secrets.

The subpoena has also raised serious privacy concerns.

Pam Dixon, executive director for the World Privacy Forum, said it's not unusual for search requests to include names, medical information, or Social Security information.

'This is exactly the kind of thing we have been worrying about with search engines for some time,' Dixon said. 'Google should be commended for fighting this.'

Gonzales rejected suggestions that the subpoena might violate individual privacy rights.

'We're not asking for the identity of Americans. We simply want to have some subject matter information with respect to these communications. This is important for the Department of Justice and we will pursue this matter,' he told reporters.

The U.S. Justice Department said Friday that Yahoo Inc., America Online and Microsoft Corp. had all complied with similar requests.

However, Yahoo stressed it hadn't revealed any personal information.

'We are rigorous defenders of our users' privacy,' Yahoo spokeswoman Mary Osako said Thursday. 'In our opinion, this is not a privacy issue.'

The Bush administration is already under fire from rights groups over security measures it has taken since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America, including eavesdropping on some telephone calls.