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Watchdog sues US Justice Department over Google chatter

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation thinks it's mighty suspicious that Jayne Horvath left the US Department of Justice for a privacy gig at Google.

On Tuesday, the net-minded public watchdog filed suit (PDF) against the DoJ, demanding records of conversations that took place between Horvath and Google before she defected to the world's largest search engine.

In a press release trumpeting the suit, the EFF points out that Horvath was named the DoJ's first chief privacy and civil liberties officer back in February 2006 - just as the department was pressing Google to turn over a whole week's worth of its web search traffic.

Hoping to gather support for an anti-net-porn law, the DoJ had slapped a subpoena on the search giant. But according to the EFF, the department eventually softened its demands, and Horvath later badmouthed this subpoena. In the end, Google turned over records for a mere 5,000 random searches.

Then, in August 2007, the EFF says, Horvath joined Google as its senior privacy counsel. As she was preparing to change jobs, the watchdog made an initial play for chatter between Horvath and Google, tossing the DoJ a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). But more than six months have passed since that request, and the feds have not responded.

"Google has an unprecedented ability to collect and retain very personal information about millions of Americans, and the DOJ and other law enforcement agencies have developed a huge appetite for that information," says a canned statement from EFF senior counsel David Sobel. "We want to know what discussions DOJ's top privacy lawyer had with Google before leaving her government position to join the company."

What does the EFF hope to find in these discussions? We have no idea. We're not even sure the EFF knows. But our interest is certainly piqued. ®

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