Google and the Feds

A lot of chatter today about a possible decision in Google’s case with the Justice Department… Can I just say that everything about this suit bothers me? Either the media have done the worst job in history of preventing the facts of this case, or it looks like the DOJ is using the legal system to compel Google to provide them with material for research. Their argument seems to be “you have it, we want it, and we’ll tie you up in court if you don’t just give it to us”. Now there is talk that Google might be compensated for their time and effort. Gee, that’s neat. The government is willing to pay a private company for the time and effort involved in turning over their private business information to the government.

One of the government’s arguments is that AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo have already complied with these sorts of requests. That’s just great. The fact that these other companies gave in to attempts at intimidation on the part of the government, or found that it was better for business to go along with it rather than fight it in court, has no bearing on whether or not the government has the right to compel Google, or anyone else, to turn over this sort of information not to punish criminals but to do research in order to put a flawed piece of legislation back on the table (the vague and incredibly subjective Child Online Protection Act).

The final kicker for me is this line from the News.com article:

Philip Stark, a professor of statistics at the University of California at Berkeley, has been hired by the Justice Department to create a study showing that filtering software is flawed and COPA is necessary.

This is how policy is decided in the US today. The government decides the results that it wants, and then assigns an “academic” to produce a study showing that the government solution is the right one, and that the data supports the conclusion. It’s the same sort of bizarro-world logic that has been applied to environmental law since the Bush administration and its energy lobby cronies took office in 2001.

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