On Friday, February 17th, Google posted their official response to the Department of Justice subpoena they received in August. The reaction to this act of resistance has been mixed – and for good reason. There are very complicated circumstances surrounding the issue.
There are two controversies at issue, it seems. On the one hand, Google resists the request of the US Government. On the other, they concede to the censorship of the Chinese government. On the one hand, Google is protecting the privacy of its users – on the other, they’re refusing to help the government with a probe into child pornography.
The document itself is interesting to read – although heavy going for those unaccustomed to reading legal briefs. (Like myself.) However, one thing is fairly clear to me – the chief element of Google’s resistance to this subpoena has mostly to do with issues of burden and relevance.
Google contends that the subpoena, requesting two full months’ search queries and a random selection of one million URL (Uniform Resource Locator)‘s from their database places an undue burden upon the company without justifiable cause. Amongst the issues which Google cites are the potential loss of secrecy for their heavily protected trade algorithms, the significant production time required to fulfill the request and the loss of trust they would undoubtedly suffer through compromising their privacy principles in such a manner.
It’s not that Google is refusing to help the government with their probe. Google is refusing to sacrifice the trust of it’s user base, it’s trade secrets, and it’s time to provide useless information.
What becomes more disturbing is that the ACLU has stated that they would issue a second subpoena on Google should the first be awarded. This subpoena would be directly targeted at learning how Google’s search engine handles queries. Though the ACLU is reluctant to invade Google’s trade secrets, they state that they feel they will have little choice should the government obtain this data.