Monday, January 23, 2006

In Google vs Government, It's Not About Child Porn

"It's interesting to see how many news sources mistakenly report that the current government vs Google case is about child porn. It's not. If anything, it's about children looking at pornography - i.e. webmasters not ensuring their sites are sufficiently blocking minors from viewing harmful content. Or more specifically, it's about a proposed law requiring those sites to restrict access to minors, the Child Online Protection Act, which just didn't get through in the past, and which the Bush administration now wants to revive (and for that reason, asked different search engines to hand over search logs and indexed URLs to prove the law is needed).

I wrote to the author of the original article at the Mercury News while preparing and editing my first blog post on this, realizing this isn't about child porn - indeed the error is quick to make, and I was confused too at first - but the Merc's error was never corrected. From there, it spread like wildfire into blogs and mainstream news sources alike.… "

Privacy experts condemn Google subpoena

Right-to-privacy groups said Friday that an attempt by the Bush administration to force Google to turn over a broad range of materials from its databases has set a dangerous precedent that should worry all Americans.

"This is the camel's nose under the tent for using search engines and all kinds of data aggregators as surveillance tools," said Jim Harper of the libertarian Cato Institute who also runs, an Internet privacy database.

The Bush administration is already under fire from a number of rights groups over security measures it has taken since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America, including pursuing checks on library records and eavesdropping on some telephone calls.

In court papers filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., the Justice Department stated that Google had refused to comply with a subpoena issued last year for 1 million random Web addresses from Google's databases as well as records of all searches entered on Google during any one-week period.

The government said it needed the information to prepare its case to revive the 1998 Child Online Protection Act, which the Supreme Court blocked from taking effect two years ago.

The law prohibited Internet companies from knowingly making available obscene or pornographic material to minors. The Supreme Court said there were potential constitutional problems with the law and sent the case back to a lower court for consideration. It is expected to be heard later this year.

The Justice Department said Friday that America Online, Yahoo and Microsoft had all complied with similar requests.…
Posted by David Berlind @ 4:26 am

eWeek has a story about how Microsoft has unequivocally stated that no personal data was handed over during a recent DOJ inquiry:

The Microsoft admission, in a recent blog by MSN Search Dev & Test General Manager Ken Moss, assures MSN search users that "absolutely no personal data" changed hands. ….In the blog, Moss said Microsoft gave the DOJ a random sample of pages from the MSN search index, which is what MSN Search customers plumb during their search inquiries…..More controversially, Microsoft also provided "some aggregated query logs that listed queries and how often they occurred." Put another way, it's a look at the key words MSN search customers entered over an extended period of time.

To some extent, it's reassuring that Microsoft didn't hand over anything personally identifiable. On the other hand, the major issue here (as I noted the other day) is the way the DOJ is raiding databases outside of the context of any specific instance of wrongdoing. It's not searching for the smoking gun in a particular crime. At best, it's doing the equivalent of a door to door search in hopes of discovering that a crime may have been committed — not the typical sort of evidence that the authorities are supposed to be going after. The more I think about it, the more I wonder what choice the DOJ would have but to go back to the search engines for more data — this time, personally identifiable data — if it sees something in doesn't like.

We use the Net under the assumption that the Feds aren't trolling the databases of search engines and ISPs that reflect our collective online behavior in hopes of finding a haystack with a needle in it.…

The other chilling effect of the DOJ vs. Google

Posted by David Berlind @ 10:12 am

Regarding my two earlier blogs (Phone calls, e-mails and now search data. Where will Bush stop and Microsoft: No personal data went to DOJ) I just got this super-long email from someone that started with this sentence:

Google created their own problem by collecting this information in the first place.

So, let's think this through. You're an entrepreneur looking to start a business and you realize that one of the keys to your success is to keep certain information in a database. But then you realize that if you do, the Feds might issue you a warrant for its contents. Then you realize that the incident could become a headline in the news .. the sort of publicity (if you give in) that could hurt your business. So, you decide not to keep that database and in the process, may be selling yourself short of the complete opportunity that stands before you. Sounds like a chilling effect to me…

Here's my opinion.

It's vulgar, but, probably accurate. The Justice department is like a teenage boy who says, 'All I want to do is touch it. You'll still be a virgin.' But we know that teenage boys don't know how or when to stop. Soon we'll be hearing, ' It won't get you pregnant.' Then, 'Can I just put it in?'

con·cept: In Google vs Government, It's Not About Child Porn