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March 20, 2006

Denied!

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I am starting to feel a little bit better about living here. While you were drinking green beer on Friday, the Associated Press reported that United States District Judge James Ware ruled the government could only take a peek at 50,000 randomly selected websites and declined their request for a list of people’s search queries. For those of you keeping score it’s Google/The People – 1, The Establishment – 0.

Ware promised during last week’s non-decision that he would take the issue of privacy concerns into consideration while he deliberated, and it looks like he made good on that. In his 21-page ruling, Ware stated it was privacy considerations of Google users that led him to deny part of the 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.”

This is a huge win for not only Google, but for Internet users. Ware has set the tone that the government does not have unrestricted power when it comes to demanding data from search engines and Internet companies. I imagine Yahoo, AOL and MSN will now hear an array of (deserved) criticism about rolling over to the government so easily. It will also be interesting to see how this affects the Gmail court case as well.

For right now, Google seems to be basking in the spotlights of this tremendous win. Google Associate General Counsel Nicole Wong:

“We will always be subject to government subpoenas, but the fact that the judge sent a clear message about privacy is reassuring. What his ruling means is that neither the government nor anyone else has carte blanche when demanding data from Internet companies.”

In his ruling, Ware noted that the assumption of privacy users feel ‘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’. Is our wanting an anonymous Internet, where we don’t have to fear how queries and searches will be used in the future unreasonable? Maybe. Perhaps we have been living under a false sense of privacy. But the fact is — we feel like, we should have it, we’ve taken it, and we’re not willing to give it up. And with Google’s help, maybe we won’t have to.





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