Here's an important post from John Battelle about the Bush administration's efforts to get at users' online behavior and search data. Battelle excerpts a San Jose Mercury News article on the Justice Dept. efforts:
In court papers filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Justice Department lawyers revealed that Google has refused to comply with a subpoena issued last year for the records, which include a request for one million random Web addresses and records of all Google searches from any one-week period.
The Mountain View-based search engine opposes releasing the information on a variety of grounds, saying it would violate the privacy rights of its users and reveal company trade secrets, according to court documents.
Nicole Wong, an associate general counsel for Google, said the company will fight the government's effort "vigorously.''
Google, to some, was starting to look like Big Brother; now it can say it is defending privacy against Big Brother. Indeed, government spying on private citizens' communications means privacy is once again on the front burner.
But this dispute isn't just about privacy; it's also about the First Amendment and potentially chilling free speech. I'm not going to go on at length about my strong personal views on this issue except to repeat myself:
The "transparency" of online communications, Wi-Fi and wireless phone usage make it all the easier for unscrupulous commercial entities (or unscrupulous governments) to track our behaviors and even privately expressed attitudes (and that will only get easier going forward). And in a "free" country, that's all really scary … REALLY SCARY.
Privacy (among other important issues like free expression) is something none of us should be complacent about. It's up to those who have strong views on the subject to express them loudly and publicly or risk further erosion of the kind of rights and protections we all take for granted.
More detail and thoughts from Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Watch.