South-Western - Management  
U.S. Wants to Google…Google
Topic Ethics and Social Responsibility
Key Words Internet privacy rights
News Story

Google Inc. is refusing a demand from the Justice Department that it turn over information about what people are searching for when they use the company’s search engine. A subpoena asks specifically for one week of information about Google activity. Google says that this information could identify millions of people and what they are looking at on the Internet, raising the question of Internet privacy rights.

The government says that it wants to use the information to search Google queries to find out how often users run across sexual content when they are not specifically searching for it. It appears that other Internet providers like Yahoo and MSN have complied with the government’s requests and Google is the lone resistor. Privacy watchdog groups have previously pointed out that Google keeps most of the information that is generated through their site.

The Justice Department claims it wants to use the information gathered from Google and other search engines like Yahoo and MSN to prove the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act. The law would impose a $50,000 fine and a 6-month prison sentence on commercial website operators who posted “patently offensive” material on any website accessible to children. This act was not approved by the Supreme Court last year on the grounds that it sacrifices the free speech rights of adults. Justice Anthony Kennedy said filters are more effective for keeping minors away from pornography and that parents have the responsibility to protect their children. The Court didn’t kill the law but directed it back to a federal court in Pennsylvania. A trial there is supposed to determine if software filters are more effective than laws at protecting children. The Justice Department plans to use the data to show that even non-pornographic searches often end up extracting material that is inappropriate for children. In those situations, filters would not be effective, and only the enforcement of the law could cut down on the incidences of innocent exposure to pornographic material.


Define “Internet privacy rights.”


In your opinion, do Google and other web search engines have a responsibility to protect the privacy of those who use their sites? Be prepared to discuss your opinion in class.


What is your opinion on the Child Online Protection Act? Would enactment of this law be effective at protecting children from pornography on the Internet? Do you agree with the Supreme Court’s initial finding that the act would violate adult freedom of speech? Be prepared to debate your answers in class.

Source “U.S. Wants to Google…Google,” Chicago Tribune, January 20, 2006, pp. 1, 22.
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