January 22, 2006 | By Kurt Opsahl

DOJ Gone Google-Fishin'

The DOJ's demand for one week worth of search histories has raised the concern that the government will go fishing into the data set, looking for searches and for keywords that worry the government. Even if IP numbers or other identifying data is not provided, what is to prevent the government from returning to Google with a second subpoena?

Over the weekend, Newsweek has reported that:

Though the government intends to use these data specifically for its COPA-related test, it's possible that the information could lead to further investigations and, perhaps, subpoenas to find out who was doing the searching. What if certain search terms indicated that people were contemplating terrorist actions or other criminal activities? Says the DOJ's [spokesperson Charles] Miller, "I'm assuming that if something raised alarms, we would hand it over to the proper [authorities]." (emphasis added)

If Mr. Miller is accuarate, this shows that the DOJ's civil division is not afraid to venture beyond the confines of the underlying COPA case (and the protective order), and data mine the deeply personal data provided by Google (and the other search engines) to find suspicious searchers to subject to scrutiny by the criminal division.

Not only is this dangerous plan Constiutionally suspect, it raises the possibility that innocent people will be suspected based on false assumptions about their searches (think about whether all the Amazon or TiVo recommendations based on your habits really captured what you were looking for). It's time for the DOJ to give up this dangerous experiment in abusive and overreaching discovery, and assure the public that the government will not use your search histories as a investigative tool.


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