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January 19, 2006

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Let's make their fight against government snooping worth it monetarily...

I don't think it's a complete coincidence that the company with the deeper understanding of what makes the WWW work is the one who refused the Feds. I don't suppose we can count on that dynamic always, but it does make some sense.

And, to push your thought further, isn't it the other services that have cooperated with the Chinese in shutting down dissidents?

Which would support your point.

So, forgive me for jumping to conclusions, but might Lexis Nexis be one of the search engines which has already complied? Now there's a thought that should dynamite the legal field as well as the media and us common folk.

In addition to the shredding of the Constitution, what really intrigues me about this is the idiocy inherent in such an approach. As with the FBI's frustration resulting from the leads generated by illegal NSA wiretaps, the information to noise ratio in such a data dump is too high to ultimately be of value. Can you imagine the resources that would need to be diverted to follow up all the kids who have googled "White House" as part of their seventh grade history report?

was this also done without a warrant? On what grounds would the government need search engine data? If you are going after a particular person fine, but everyone who goes to Al-Jezzera's news page is not a terrorist. nor are people who look up terrorists online. just like how people who have books about serial killers aren't serial killers.

We're dealing here with people who want to be able to tell the court that X percent of searches (very high) led to some porn. (Whatever they mean by that?) They think they can convince the Court that such a statement has meaning. They are probably right.

And this is a convenient way to establish the right to subpoena vast quantities of data.

mainsallset: If the feds were actually interested in the much-smaller more specialized Lexis, that would indeed raise some very large red flags! Hope we find out.

Along these lines, did everyone see the brilliant Daily Show 'connect the dots' segment last night? Check it out if you get a chance. (the segment is actually called 'Rampant Buggery').

EW: I believe Google thinks more long-term than some other companies, although that's not to say they're 'altruistic'! They want to 'rule the world' like any of the rest. But they may have the vision to see that, in the long run, and in the emerging interconnected world, good business and good corporate citizenship (in a global sense) tend to reinforce rather than oppose each other. It's not for nothing that Gates, Yahoo, et. al. consistently play catch up to companies which actually innovate, like Google. Google is now a public company, but their quarterly earnings look just fine as it is, without scrambling to 'get into China', etc. The old-man Chinese regime will be gone sooner or later, and Google - or companies like them - will still be there.

Janinsanfran: Intriguing about the porn, but I don't think so. They could do a representative sampling of searches on their own and come up with that information more easily. Your second idea seems more on the money.

DaveB: Perhaps they are creating an extensive database on every person in America. A few web hits to Al Jazeera are inconsequential in themselves, but combine it with information from other sources, and then they think they have something. Of course, with such a database, they could theoretically have extensive records on every American, so if someone challenges them, they can be blackmailed or smeared with anything unusual from their past.

mainsailset

To add to what johnnybutter said, I think it highly unlikely they went after Lexis Nexis for two reasons. First, it's unlikely they're going to show a high rate of porn searches on LN, since you've got to pay for the searches and they are very traceable. Second, you just don't fuck with corporate lawyers.

johnnybutter

Thanks for the link. That is a classic TDS.

JohnnyButter & EmptyWheel: thanks for the thoughts. As I read the article it was asking for $1 mil random web addresses and records of all Google searches from any one week period. Since this is the admin of Clear Skies Policy and Death Tax who routinely re-name their shit to cover up their actions and they don't seem to respect the Constitution I think I'll hang on to the Lexis Nexis idea for a bit. It would be such a rich field for them to mine ... just because they say they're mining for porn don't make it so. And, besides, I seem to remember that Lexis Nexis did have a break in their security just last year. I'm wondering why the other search engine companies have rolled over without so much as a court case hiccup.

It's one thing for me to know how boring I am, it's another for the whole world to know it. Maybe I can look up some juicy stuff in the next few days.

mainsailset

I just read the motion. It appears taht Google's main competitors have turned over similar documents. So I'm guessing, at a minimum, Yahoo and MSN and AOL.

The other really troubling thing is the logic behind this. DOJ has to prove that COPA is more effective than a filter in preventing kids from getting porn. But they're assuming that the words entered into a search engine will indicate the intent of the person doing the search. What if I enter "booby"? Is that going to register as a porn search. How about "vasectomy"? Does that count as porn? "hot girls"?

Somewhere, some lucky DOJ employee is searching through the URLs that MSN and Yahoo have already turned over and making a determination of whether they're porn or not. Ditto someone looking at massive lists of search terms. I can't see anyway that such an investigation can end up with real data.

And of course, the whole issue demonstrates the fact that DOJ had no justification for believing censoring works better than a filter in teh first place. They're just doing it based on a hunch, a guess. Our first amendment for a hunch and smutty URL, it seems.

EmptyWheel: thanks for the comeback, I'm much more fond of facts than my own opinion.

Just happened to read this article about Google in the Economist this afternoon, in which their co-founder, Larry Page is quoted...

...in Google's regulatory filings for its stockmarket listing...[as announcing] the company motto: “Don't be evil”. Despite rapid growth—from about 200 employees when Mr Page was chief executive to nearly 5,000 now—Google has lost none of its puritanical fanaticism.

'Puritanical fanaticism'. Ah, the Economist, condesending from the middle, as it so often manages to do - here confusing their trendy cynicism for proper 18th century pessimism (have any of these people ever read ALL of 'Wealth of Nations', or just the 'good' parts?). There is nothing inherently 'bad-business' about not being 'evil'. As we've been discussing, it might be very *good* business for Google in the long run.

what's the matter with you people? Don't you care about the children?!. Granted, curing dandruff with a hatchet isn't the perfect solution, but...the children

By the way, here's the motion.

I must be naive. Because it is surprising to me that the government can just order private companies to hand over this data on what is basically a fishing expedition to justify their (as johnnybutter so aptly describes it) hatchet dandruff cure.

Note, the motion is clear that Google only has to hand over the search terms--no identifying markers like ISPs. But still, I'm disturbed.

Why not ask them to go through public and college libraries to make sure nothing smells like smut there, either? This just seems like a really stupid way to go about trying to prove what they're trying to prove.

If I recall rite, the Nixon folks wiresnooped on the Quakers; I was reminded when a union of concerned scientists search yesterday ended in a map of Sumerian wanderings which had a link which when clicked ended in a preacher's site: he was for peace in the Levant, and for religion Christian style. With cookies and the viruslike ads that get through the McAfee filter, it is a given that our internet activity is broadcast; I would expect CALEA language justifies it, or someone in DoJ is making such a case; like the way DoJ is saying Graham-Levin means hundreds of cases are court stripped forthwith; DC Circuit is trying to grasp one of the lead cases, while SupremeCourt has executive session tomorrow over another and retroactively has to assess how to deal with one already granted certiorari.
I doubt the lurid and lascivious are what this datamine's gold is given the randomness of it, though some bank of Cray computers might have a little case of ROM-daze if they try to use fuzzy logic to profile 1 million clicking home computers.
Of course, the concern liberals mercurially express in these instance is very balanced: there is always some eccentric a part of the process: someone who would turn the datamine filter, say, to all visitors to links on the blogroll at volokh, you know, send them a fundraiser letter. Or catch every strategm communication between the DNC fundraiser letter and the respondents who upload comments for use in debate, like the Orrin Hatch network technician who purloined Democrats judiciary appointments emails for three years before getting caught.

I think the administration is trying to do this quickly now because in all likelihood the Patriot Act is back in the debate arena in February with no guarantee this kind of excess would have any legal prayer of occurring after the Senate resumes that sunsetting phaseout of Patriot. Too much has become public since the staid opening of the House debate; first NSA now Google. There always used to be several websites that were fairly sure to censure or simply printout everything for administrative subpoenaless oversight in the Orwell division of superior cognizance, doubtless; I think Compuserve was one of the originals in that regard. A family content site.

But too much has happened for sleuth agencies to ignore online; I would expect intelligence agencies have determined a lot of communications online are part of the terrorist modus operandi, so these smart agencies have a few profiles programmed into filters which they would like to use as an overlay applied to a random sample. Who is to guarantee the request, if granted, is conducted morally and constitutionally, is the principal question.

We had some teens in our little town a decade ago who hacked a nonsecure computer that was in the government, and the local ISP let the FBI put a sham server inline to catch the teen hackers every mouse click; the judge sentenced the rapscalions to living 5 years without access to a computer, a pretty benign outcome for some kids who were acting out.
When I visit some legal websites I am amazed at how strong those attorneys have to be to endure reading the bizarre details of criminals' lives, then to act as advocates for the accused.
I suppose it is the sheer diversity of our political system with its guarantees of privacy that make it so fecund.
Declaration of interest: The author basically avoids the lurid political stuff online, preferring poetry and pottery, archeology and polar bears swimming for their lives as global warming separates them from their means of survival, unless they become mere campground bears knocking over garbage cans and begging, nay, demanding lollipops and pancake batter, whatever happy campers have in the car. Now.
I do not watch television, and understand EW's is exiled to the basement; but I would wager the google subpoena for a 1-million-blogger datadump is going to provide some comedians hilarious fodder this weekend. I will never know.
There are some great sites on Tibetan Nepalese meditation centers, though. Time to click thru them on Google.
How's the profile doing now. The president wants to be in touch with the people; think of the possibilities; but he probably uses Thomas and GovSearch or whatever it is, exclusively; never catch the president clicking where one oughtn't to click.

Anyone care to connect the dots?

From Chris Bowers at MyDD:

After the 2004 election, Ken Mehlman offered up a now famous quote about the different approaches Democrats and Republicans took in their voter identification models:

This time, however, the Republicans, says Mehlman, did what Visa does: "We acquired a lot of consumer data. What magazines do you subscribe to? Do you own a gun? How often do the folks go to church? Where do you send your kids to school? Are you married? Based on that, we were able to develop an exact kind of consumer model that corporate America does every day to predict how people vote -- not based on where they live, but on how they live."

From the Mercury News story:

``The government can't even claim that it's for national security,'' Everett-Church said. ``They're just using it to get the search engines to do their research for them in a way that compromises the civil liberties of other people.''

UPDATE:

FYI, the New York Times has now identified the three companies that cooperated with the government subpoenas without a fight:

AOL
MSN
Yahoo.

Looks like the NSA has some great new computer data mining program they need some input on which to test.

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