Google may have to turn over search information sought by the United States Justice Department. The Associated Press is reporting that U.S District Judge James Ware is leaning towards ordering Google to give the information at a hearing in a San Jose federal court. The Justice Department is requesting 50,000 web addresses and 5000 search requests from Google, which is much lower than the one million URLs the department originally sought.
While a million random websites seems innocuous enough, privacy advocates have strongly criticized the DOJ’s request to look at search string information. This criticism continued even after the department said that the search engines could strip out any identifying information in the text. In addition to Google, three other companies, AOL, MSN and Yahoo were asked to give search information. Those three companies complied.
The Justice Department believes the search data will help them defend the 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA) which requires sites that publish sexual material to block access to minors. Opponents to the act say that the “community standards” used to determine if content is obscene are too broad. They also contend that content filtering software is effective in blocking children’s access to adult websites.
Advocates of the act disagree and argue that parental responsibility should not be placed in a piece of software. COPA has been struck down several times, but the Supreme Court advised the government to either reword the act or to prove that filters don’t work well. That is where the search engine data comes into play. The government plans on re-entering the search requests back into Google’s search engine and seeing what percentage of requests go through.
Originally, one million random URLs from Google’s database were requested. The DOJ also requested a week’s worth of search string information, which is the text that Internet users type into Google’s search box.