A federal judge on Friday ordered Google Inc. to give the Bush administration a peek inside its search engine, but rebuffed the government’s demand for a list of people’s search requests — potentially sensitive information that the company had fought to protect.
In his 21-page ruling, U.S. District Judge James Ware told Google to provide the U.S. Justice Department with the addresses of 50,000 randomly selected Web sites indexed by its search engine by April 3.
The government plans to use the data for a study in another case in Pennsylvania, where the Bush administration is trying to revive a law meant to shield children from online pornography.
Ware, though, decided Google won’t have to disclose what people have been looking for on its widely used search engine, handing a significant victory to the company and privacy rights advocates.
“We will always be subject to government subpoenas, but the fact that the judge sent a clear message about privacy is reassuring,” Google lawyer Nicole Wong wrote on the company’s Web site Friday night. “What his ruling means is that neither the government nor anyone else has carte blanche when demanding data from Internet companies.”
Attempts to reach a spokesman for the Justice Department late Friday weren’t immediately successful.
The government had asked for the contents of 5,000 randomly selected search requests, dramatically scaling back its initial demands after Google’s vehement protests gained widespread attention.
When the Justice Department first turned to Ware for help in January, the government wanted an entire week’s worth of Google search requests — a list that would encompass queries posed by millions of people.