The Department of Justice has asked for and received information on the kinds of searches people are doing from Yahoo, Microsoft, and America Online. No, this is not in the name of national security, it’s so the government can do research to make a better case for the failed Child Online Protection Act. (!) Google is holding out and has refused to comply with a government subpoena for a year. The government is now going to court to force Google to comply.
There’s much to be confused about here. Supposedly the government is not asking for information on individual users, just what searches have been done in any given week (and hey, who doesn’t trust the government when it comes to spying?). Why is Google so reluctant to give this out that they’ll defy a subpoena? I’d say it must be more for business reasons than concerns about user privacy. (Maybe they’re concerned about what will happen if advertisers find out what a huge percentage of Google searches are actually for porn.) And, come to think about it, what’s this about defying a subpoena? How do you do that exactly? I don’t think libraries are ever advised to go that far to protect user privacy.
The best reporting I’ve read on this so far is the San Jose Mercury News. The Wall Street Journal coverage does note that libraries make more of an effort to protect user privacy than most companies.