Court: Google May Keep Search Queries Private

Google late last week scored a partial victory in a battle with the government, when federal district court judge James Ware ruled that the search giant need not provide the Department of Justice with search queries submitted to its search engine.

Ware ruled that Google users have come to expect that their searches would remain confidential, and that forcing Google to disclose the substance of search queries could hurt the search company's business. "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.

While he held that users' beliefs that their searches are private doesn't "rise to the level of an absolute privilege," such beliefs nonetheless "indicate that there is a potential burden as to Google's loss of goodwill if Google is forced to disclose search queries to the government."

The government was seeking the information as part of a lawsuit over the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act, which requires Web publishers to prevent minors from accessing pornography. To prove the law is constitutional, the government must show that there are no less restrictive means of preventing children from being exposed to adult-oriented material online.



Originally, the government had sought two months' worth of search queries, although that request was eventually pared down to a sample of 5,000 queries from Google's log.

The government also sought less sensitive information--URLs from Google's database. As expected, Ware said Google must disclose 50,000 random URLs from its index.

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