29/01/2006

GOOGLE AND THE GOVERNMENT

Here's my take in last week's Herald Webwalk column on the US Government's attempts to obtain information from Google about what its users are searching for.

The Government wants the information to see how easy it is to search for porn on the internet and therefore how easy it is for unsupervised children to gain access to porn. The Government already knows how easy it is. Type "porn" into Google and the top result is for the website www.pichunter.com. It contains thousands of hardcore porn images that are instantly accessible. No age verification needed.

Still, I respect Google for not giving in and handing the information over. It's no doubt scared that when confronted with the hard(core) evidence, the Bush Government will start looking at ways to limit access to such material. That should definately happen, but it shouldn't be up to Google or any other internet provider to do so. It should be up to parents and anyone who is responsible for a computer that children may be using.

I'm not opposed to the Government getting its hands on search results, but I do feel this would be the first step on a slippery slope towards serious invasions of our privacy in the digital world.

The column may have slipped into the premium content section by now, but what I had to say boils down to this:

"...allowing the Government to peer at a string of search queries entered into Google, Yahoo or Ask Jeeves really isn't as worrying as being given access to information trawled from email accounts. Even anonymous keyword results pulled from millions of email accounts would give a deep insight into what the masses are thinking and doing.
"It's not of the question that, down the line, governments may seek such information for reasons that are "in the national interest". Will the Government next subpoena Google to supply a list of locations people are looking at via Google Earth, the free satellite mapping service? Or will it ask for transcripts of Google Talk messenger conversations? Just because the data don't identify anyone in particular doesn't mean that's not whittling away our privacy.
"If you have nothing to hide when you use the internet, you have nothing to fear. Nevertheless, any encroachment on privacy needs to be zealously examined and perhaps resisted, even when the case for such encroachments seems valid."

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