Google Search and Seizure

Prompted in part by the recenet story about how your search history could be used as evidence against you in court, Robert Kuttner has a scathing op-ed in the Boston Globe regarding Google and individual privacy rights titled “Google Search and Seizure” Some of the highlights:

In the era of the misnamed USA Patriot Act, which allows warrantless police searches that are not even disclosed to the target, Google plus Dick Cheney is a recipe for undoing the liberties for which the original patriots of the American Revolution bled and died. Under the Patriot Act, anyone suspected of enabling terrorism can be subjected to these fishing expeditions. Depending on a prosecutor’s whims, that includes all of us.

In the 18th-century era of star-chamber courts and despotic monarchs, the US Constitution put an end to government as prosecutor, judge, and jury. Unreasonable searches and seizures were explicitly prohibited by the Sixth Amendment. People (not just citizens) were guaranteed the right to confront their accusers and to know the charges against them. There were no ”national security” loopholes.

Google’s internal slogan is, charmingly, ”Don’t be evil.” Well, the interaction of cyber-snooping and the unreasonable searches authorized by the Patriot Act is pure evil.

Herewith an idea that I am putting into the public domain, which could make some computer-whiz a billionaire: One of Google’s competitors could guarantee users of its search engines that all data keeping track of searches will be permanently discarded after 24 hours. The search process could still learn a broad pattern of users’ purchasing tastes, if we wish to be party to a bargain of being marketed to in exchange for the convenience of free searches.

[…] We all grew up vaguely knowing that 20th century technology, under fairly narrow circumstances, could invade privacy. The phone company kept track of everyone’s calling records. These could be subpoenaed. Prosecutors and detectives, with warrants approved by judges, could deploy telephone wiretaps. There were occasional abuses, as in the witch hunts of the 1950s, but for the most part these technological invasions of privacy were used against bad guys, not for broad fishing expeditions. And there was no e-mail and no Google.

Today, however, the explosion of computer technology coupled with the discarding of prosecutorial restraints is leading to a Big-Brother society. Unless we pay attention, the technology is so seductive that we become enablers of our own enslavement.

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