A wave of pious indignation and table-thumping has spread across the nation's editorial pages over the freedom to search for Internet porn. Don't get me wrong: I think you do have the right to search for porn. But it is interesting to see what gets people's First Amendment gag reflex going. The Baltimore Sun, for example, warns that a "witch-hunt" for search engine abusers might be around the corner if Google cooperates with the government.
Maureen Dowd, the reigning scribe of unthinking liberalism, recently wrote in The New York Times that Dick Cheney - whom she calls "The Grim Peeper" - is trying to turn America into a "police state." "I don't like the thought of Dick Cheney ogling my Googling," Dowd writes without rhyme or reason.
It was a silly column, even for Dowd, but it does capture a certain level of both the legitimate fear and the outright paranoia out there.
Partisanship is obviously part of the equation. For instance, the heretofore-unknown disease of Cheneyphobia seems to be reaching epidemic proportions. It seems to cause some people to believe that the vice president of the United States has superhuman powers and that he is capable of personally reading hundreds of millions of e-mails while listening to thousands of hours of phone conversations and - simultaneously - scanning trillions of Web searches.
Robert Kuttner, writing about a different controversy in the Boston Globe, shows serious evidence of the affliction when he writes, "Google plus Dick Cheney is a recipe for undoing the liberties for which the original patriots of the American Revolution bled and died."
On the narrow point about Dick Cheney, this all a bunch of nonsense. The Department of Justice is in a lawsuit with the ACLU over the Child Online Protection Act, which is designed to help prevent kids from being exposed to online porn. The law ran afoul of the First Amendment, according to a lower court, and the Supreme Court asked for additional information pending its final decision on the matter. The Department of Justice asked Google as well as MSN, Yahoo! and Time Warner (AOL's parent) to provide data on their search engines from a one-week period. (The Associated Press scarily refers to the request as a "White House subpoena," as if the White House could actually issue subpoenas.) No personal information was asked for and none has been given. Everyone but Google complied because there's really no reason not to. Google, however, sees itself in a very idealistic light and has decided to stand on principle against the government, prompting huzzahs from all the predictable sources.