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Phew! Google saves US netizens from Gov snoops

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Hurrah! Google has made the internet safe for US citizens! Or at least that was what the company implied late on Friday evening, after a federal judge ruled that the company didn't have to turn over a sample of anonymized search queries to the US Department of Justice, and only needed to provide a sampling of websites it searched.

"This is a clear victory for our users," Google said in a statement.

The DoJ had wanted the anonymized data to bolster its attempt to revive COPA, or the Child Online Protection Act, a 1998 law requiring site owners to restrict content, or access to content. In 2004 the Supreme Court agreed with an appellate court decision that the law violated the First Amendment.

It should be noted that Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo! meekly handed over the data without a fight. But the case was never about protecting the privacy of Google users - as no personal information was requested.

And ominously, the judge explained that there was no reason for Google to hand over the queries because the DoJ already had obtained what it wanted from Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo! who had supplied a week's worth of search queries, and a sample of million websites in their respective indices.

What should put this decision in its proper perspective is explained [subscription required] in this month's issue of article of The Atlantic, where investigative journalist and author James Bamford, whose 1983 book Puzzle Palace documented much of the work of the National Security Agency for the first time.

"Today the NSA has access to more information than ever before," Bamford reminds us.

"People express their most intimate thoughts in emails, send their tax returns over the internet, satisfy their curiosity and desires with Google searches, let their hair down in chat rooms, discuss every event over cell phones, make appointments with their BlackBerrys, and do business at Wi-Fi hot spots."

"NSA personnel ... have the ultimate goal of intercepting and reviewing every syllable and murmur zapping into, out of, or through the United States. They are close to achieving it." ®

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