Leahy Calls For DOJ Google Explanation

    January 25, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

US Senator Pat Leahy (D-Vt) has sent a written request to US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for more information about Justice’s legal action against Google.

Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has shifted from badgering Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito to Gonzales, in the wake of a lawsuit filed against search advertising company Google to compel its compliance with a federal subpoena.

The International Herald Tribune reported on Leahy’s letter. The Senator has asked Gonzales to “specify how it intends to use the data and what it is doing to protect the privacy of ‘millions of American people who conduct searches on the Internet.’ ”

AOL, MSN, and Yahoo have already complied with the Department of Justice subpoenas. Yahoo and MSN both claim no personally identifiable information accompanied the data provided to DOJ. The subpoenas, issued in August 2005, likely would have remained secret had Google not refused to yield the information, prompting the government’s lawsuit.

Justice believes the information it requested can help it prove the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act, by proving adult websites do not adequately shield their content from minors. COPA did not withstand a Supreme Court challenge, which Leahy said he predicted would happen when it passed as part of a larger appropriations bill.

Leahy’s letter was sent Tuesday and released to the public today. Some points of note follow (spacing added for clarity):

I inquire about the Department’s efforts to obtain and use commercial web-browsing data against the backdrop of strong public concern over the government’s monitoring of Internet communications and warrantless eavesdropping on the telephone conversations of American citizens.

The collection and use by government law enforcement agencies of such commercial transactional data on law-abiding Americans poses unique concerns, including the specter of excessive government surveillance that may intrude upon important privacy interests and chill the exercise of First Amendment-protected speech and associational rights.

Accordingly, I am interested in learning more about the extent to which the Department of Justice is relying upon data mining of the Internet search queries made by law-abiding American citizens to support its efforts under the COPA and how the Department is addressing the privacy and civil liberties concerns raised by the collection, storage and use of such data.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.