When it comes to fighting government censorship, Google, the giant Internet search engine, is on the front lines. Or is it? It all depends on which government is seeking to restrict access to material on the World Wide Web. Google has been fiercely battling the U.S. Justice Department from obtaining Google records in the government's effort to keep pornography beyond the reach of children. The company has been much more accommodating, however, when it comes to its dealings with the government of the People's Republic of China.
Google has been fighting a Justice Department subpoena for some 50,000 Web addresses and 5,000 random search requests, none of them linked to any personal information or data on Google's millions of users. The Justice Department says it needs the data in order to defend the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act in a suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the 1998 law.
Other large Internet companies -- Time Warner's America Online, Microsoft Corporation's Microsoft Network and Yahoo -- have already complied with most of the government's requests. But Google has been standing on principle. At least the company would like you to think so.
"Google users trust that when they enter a search query into a Google search box, not only will they receive back the most relevant results, but that Google will keep private whatever information users communicate absent a compelling reason," the company explained in its filing in District Court. As one of the founders of the Internet company, Sergey Brin, recently explained, cooperating with the government is a "slippery slope and it's a path we shouldn't go down."
On Tuesday, a federal judge directed Google to comply with the government's request, but the company could appeal the order. Whatever happens, Google's refusal to bend to pressure from the U.S. government is in stark contrast with its behavior toward the PRC. The Chinese government isn't trying to deny access to pornographic sites, but it is very worried about letting its citizens learn more about Taiwan independence or what really happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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