Google and Department of Justice will square off today in San Jose over whether Google should be forced to turn over a vast amount of data, including one million Web addresses.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales triggered the clash in January, when Justice Department lawyers went to court to force Google to comply with a subpoena that asks the company to release one million Web addresses and at least one week's worth of random search queries. The government is seeking the information to make its defense of the Child Online Protection Act, a federal law designed to keep children from sexually explicit content on the Internet.
Google, backed by privacy advocates, is resisting the subpoena on a variety of grounds, including the argument that it threatens the privacy rights of Web users and exposes the company's trade secrets to public release.
The case is considered a crucial barometer of how much control a search engine has over its vault of Web traffic and whether the Internet habits of its users are insulated by a 20-year-old electronic privacy law. Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University, said that if the government gets the information, it's conceivable Congress may eventually step in with legislation that would prevent the broad release of data collected on Internet searches.
Justice Department lawyers argue that Google and its supporters have overstated the risks of releasing the information. Government lawyers stress that the data they seek would not identify individual users.
"This case comes at a time when people are starting to recognize that the information they put into their computers creates a record,'' said Lauren Gelman, associate director of Stanford University's Center for Internet and Society. "In the bigger picture, as people input more information into computers, they are losing control over that. We're leaving a digital footprint with all sorts of information about ourselves.''