Saturday, February 25, 2006

Google Deserves Our Support (Surprisingly)

In a surprising turn of events, Google is standing up to US federal snoops, who have attempted to subpoena a huge amount of RANDOM data about Google searches, in what is clearly a government fishing expedition, surrounding a civil suit over the Children's Online Protection Act (COPA). We commend Google for taking this position in defense of our 4th Amendment rights, even if that is not their intention. At the same time, we wish that Google would take the same strong stance in support of the Chinese people, against the demands upon Google by the totalitarian Communist Chinese government.

Google has made a very strong case for why the subpoena would not only violate the privacy of its millions of users, but would harm Google, in the marketplace.

As one who has a strong background in IT security, I can attest, without any doubt that considering the huge amount of RANDOM data that Dubya's snoops are demanding from Google, there is absolutely no way that Google could "sanitize" it of all personally identifiable data, as the DoJ suggests they might do. In fact, the search terms that a person uses can often tell a lot about the person. With enough data (such as is being demanded by Dubya's snoops) and a good data mining program, it should not be hard to personally identify thousands of individuals. Then consider that even though this subpoena is based upon a civil case, there is no law that would prevent the DoJ from sharing the information that they develop with the criminal division, on cases that have no relationship to the COPA. Since the data comes from nothing but searches, suspicion can be easily cast upon people who are totally innocent of any crime.

For example, in my own writing, I often research the opposition and as a counter point, even quote from sources that are diametrically opposed to the position about which I am writing. For example, I can't count how many times I have searched for the term "karl marx" or "manifesto", in my research. That doesn't make me a communist sympathizer. But, to a data mining program, it would do exactly that. There are a hundred other words that I routinely use in my research that might flag me as any number of other types of low-lifes.

Once that data is in the hands of the government, there is no telling how many innocent people may suddenly find themselves on a no-fly list, because of a series of innocent searches that they did just one time. James Madison expressed very well, one of the major problems with the DoJ subpoena, when he said, "I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of freedoms of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." This is just one more, in a long string of deliberate, gradual encroachments, by the current administration that demonstrate all too clearly, just how little regard Dubya has for our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

There is also the issue of proprietary data. In fact, Google has always closely guarded how many requests they are able to process in a given period, as well as what their most common search terms are, among other trade secrets. If Google were to be forced to supply that data to the government, then the defense in that case would have to have access to that data, too. Once that data gets out, it would be very easy to determine all kinds of information from it that competitors could use to make their search engines more efficient and become more competitive with Google. The government could very easily take the leading search engine company and turn it into just another of the pack, if this subpoena is upheld.

For a number of reasons, I am not a big fan of Google's business tactics (though I like their technology). But in this case, I must heartily applaud them. After all, we must protect our own rights, here at home, if we are to be able to have any effect on securing the rights of others, such as the people of Communist China, for whom it seems, Google could care less. I support the concept of COPA, but we must remember that just using a good concept to justify a bad thing, does not make the bad thing any less bad. In fact, if anything, it casts a cloud over the good concept, for its supporter's attempt to justify something bad.

Because of the severe damage that Dubya and his snoops have already done to the Constitution and in particular, the 4th Amendment, in the false name of fighting terrorism, we should all hope that the court comes down hard on the DoJ and makes it clear that any such fishing expeditions will not be tolerated. It's time that the court tells Dubya that enough is enough, before there is nothing left of the 4th Amendment to salvage.

Some may think that it is OK to violate the rights of certain individuals, if the cause is good. But, keep in mind that if we allow it once, then we have set a precedent that by the simple circumstance of a change in administration, may soon be used against you, in ways that you never dreamed.

Let's give two cheers for Google. We can hold that third cheer for when Google stands up to Communist China or pulls completely out of that country. But, at least Google is fighting the good fight here in the USA.