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Google Victorious in DOJ Search Data & URL Ruling

Google Victorious in DOJ Search Data & URL Ruling

Google has announced that it will not be forced to hand over its search query information to the US Department of Justice after a federal judge has ruled (ruling is available from Google via PDF) to limit the subpoena issued to Google. Although the decision is a bit split given that Google will still have to hand over some info, chalk up a big win for Google and Search and a big loss for Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

Google Associate General Counsel Nicole Wong posts on the Google Blog :

The government’s original request demanded billions of URLs and two month’s worth of users’ search queries. Google resisted the subpoena, prompting the judge’s order today. In addition to excluding search queries from the subpoena, Judge James Ware also required the government to limit its demand for URLs to 50,000. We will fully comply with the judge’s order.

Ms. Wong adds:

This is a clear victory for our users and for our company, and Judge Ware’s decision regarding search queries is especially important. While privacy was not the most significant legal issue in this case (because the government wasn’t asking for personally identifiable information), privacy was perhaps the most significant to our users. As we noted in our briefing to the court, we believe that if the government was permitted to require Google to hand over search queries, that could have undermined confidence that our users have in our ability to keep their information private. Because we resisted the subpoena, the Department of Justice will not receive any search queries and only a small fraction of the URLs it originally requested.

Concurring Opinions has a detailed review of the ruling as Daniel Solove believes “Judge Ware’s written decision strikes me as much more of a victory for Google and privacy than for the government.”

Subsequently, the goverment narrowed its URL sample demand to 50,000 URLs and it narrowed its search query demand to all queries during a 1-week period rather than the two-month period mentioned above. Google still raised a challenge, and the government again narrowed its search query request for only 5000 entries from Google’s query log.

Daniel also feels that the government failed to establish justification for the need of the list of URL’s from Google and quotes this excerpt of Judge Ware’s ruling:

The Government’s disclosure of its plans for the sample of URLs is incomplete. The actual methodology disclosed in the Government’s papers as to the search index sample is, in its entirety, as follows: “A human being will browse a random sample of 5,000-10,000 URLs from Google’s index and categorize those sites by content” and from this information, the Goverment intends to “estimate . . . the aggregate properties of the websites that search engines have indexed.” The Government’s disclosure only describes its methodology for a study to categorize the URLs in Google’s search index, and does not disclose a study regarding the effectiveness of filtering software. Absent any explanation of how the “aggregate properties” of material on the Internet is germane to the underlying litigation, the Government’s disclosure as to its planned categorization study is not particularly helpful in determining whether the sample of Google’s search index sought is reasonably calculated to lead ot admissible evidence in the underlying litigation.

But what about all of that information that MSN, Yahoo and other search firms handed over to the DOJ without questioning their subpoenas? The Google ruling shows that if they had stood up to the bullying lawyers over this political fiasco, they wouldn’t have had to do so either and now, it’s too late.

Philipp at Google Blogoscoped adds “In retrospect, this decision also shows that MSN, Yahoo and others gave away their search logs even when they didn’t have to – even when they could’ve successfully and legally opposed to it.

By the way, I was trying to find a copy of Judge Ware’s order that’s not in a locked down PDF file for printing here on Search Engine Journal.

If any readers find such a text copy, could you please leave a comment or email me. The US District Court of Northern California’s site is quite difficult to roadmap and old rulings are indexed in its Pacer system, but I’m still having a difficult time finding this one ruling (sure the Google PDF is fine, but not as accessible as text).


UPDATE : Something I found as a bit ironic in my search for a text or non-locked down version of the ruling was that when searching on the USDOJ.gov site for case number CV 06-8006MISC JW I noticed the following message in their search results:

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Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Screen Shot 2014 04 15 at 7.21.12 AM Google Victorious in DOJ Search Data & URL Ruling

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