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US Govt looses court case against Google

A federal judge on Friday denied a US government request that Google Inc be ordered to hand over keywords customers use to search its Web database, but will require the company to produce some Web addresses indexed in its system.

india Updated: Mar 18, 2006 21:51 IST
Reuters
Reuters
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A federal judge on Friday denied a US government request that Google Inc be ordered to hand over keywords customers use to search its Web database, but will require the company to produce some Web addresses indexed in its system.

In a 21-page ruling that has implications for the privacy of Internet users, Judge James Ware of the US District for the Northern District of California said privacy considerations led him to deny part of the US Justice Department's request.

"To the extent the motion seeks an order compelling Google to disclose search queries of its users the motion is denied," Ware wrote.

"This concern, combined with the prevalence of Internet searches for sexually explicit material ... gives this court pause as to whether the search queries themselves may constitute potentially sensitive information," he said.

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had subpoenaed Google to turn over data the government wanted from the company as part of the Bush Administration's attempt to defend the effectiveness of a 1996 online child pornography law.

During a court hearing on Tuesday the government reduced the number of Google searches it wanted data on to just 50,000 Web addresses and roughly 5,000 search terms from the millions or potentially billions of addresses it had initially sought.

"The court grants the government's motion to compel only as to the sample of 50,000 URLs (Uniform Resource Locators), from Google's search index," the judge ruled, referring to the searchable catalog of documents that form the core of Google's Web search service, the most widely used in the world.

He ruled that the 50,000 Web addresses, or URLs, was a relevant request by the government for use in a statistical study it is doing to defend the constitutionality of a federal online child antipornography law that is at issue in a separate case, ACLU vs Gonzales.

"The expectation of privacy by some Google users may not be reasonable, but may nonetheless have an appreciable impact on the way in which Google is perceived, and consequently the frequency with which users use Google," Ware wrote.

In his decision, Judge Ware wrote of the "three vital interests" that needed to be weighed in the case: national interest, proprietary business information and privacy concerns.

"This Court is particularly concerned any time enforcement of a subpoena imposes an economic burden on a non-party," he wrote in a filing made at the close of business of Friday.

The judge found that given Google's importance in the Web search business, the government would need at least some data.

"Because Google has the greatest market share, the government's study may be significantly hampered if it did not have access to some information from the most often used search engine," the judge's opinion stated.

First Published: Mar 18, 2006 21:51 IST