Friday, March 17, 2006
Google will not have to hand over any user's search queries to the government. That's what a federal judge ruled today when he decided to drastically limit a subpoena issued to Google by the Department of Justice. (You can read the entire ruling here and the government's original subpoena here.)
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.
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.
We will always be subject to government subpoenas, but the fact that the judge sent a clear message about privacy is reassuring. What his ruling means is that neither the government nor anyone else has carte blanche when demanding data from Internet companies. When a party resists an overbroad subpoena, our legal process can be an effective check on such demands and be a protector of our users.