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Google's Privacy Win Could Be Pyrrhic Victory

Google scored a partial victory in its battle to keep its search data out of the hands of the government. It may be a costly win.

Federal Judge James Ware ruled last week that Google must turn over 50,000 URLs from its index to the government, but not users' search queries. Last August, the Department of Justice sought all the URLs in Google's index and two months worth of search queries.

The government hopes to use Google's data to prove that Internet filters can't effectively shield minors from adult material online. In so doing, it aims to reinstate the 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which was blocked by the courts when the ACLU and other groups challenged the constitutionality of the law.

In a blog post, Nicole Wong, associate general counsel of Google, characterized the decision as "a clear victory for our users and for our company. ... Because we resisted the subpoena, the Department of Justice will not receive any search queries and only a small fraction of the URLs it originally requested."

"What Google did here was actually a brave and important thing," says Stephen Ryan, a partner at law firm Manatt Phelps & Phillips in Washington, D.C. "They challenged what the government was doing and the government had to cut down, in its negotiations and in the court's ruling, what they had to turn over."

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