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U.S. Need for Data Questioned

January 26, 2006|From Bloomberg News

The Justice Department should explain why it needs information on customer Internet searches from Google Inc. and other companies, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee said.

In a letter to Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont asked the agency to specify how it intended to use the data and what it was doing to protect the privacy of "millions of American people who conduct searches on the Internet."

The Justice Department last week sued Google, the most-used search engine, demanding one week's worth of Web searches and 1 million addresses in the company's database.

Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., is fighting the request, saying it could compromise trade secrets. In its suit, filed in federal court in San Jose, the government said it wanted the data to help counter legal challenges to the Child Online Protection Act, designed to protect minors from viewing pornography.

Leahy's letter, dated Tuesday and released Wednesday, said the demand for Google's data might heighten the "strong public concern" triggered by recent revelations that the Bush administration authorized eavesdropping on international phone calls and e-mails of American citizens without a court order.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the agency told Google that the government didn't want personal information about the people who use the website.

"The government, in seeking this data, is not attempting to obtain information about individual computer users," he said. "Our sole intent is to make the Internet safer for our youth."

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