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Google-Justice fight looks more like trade-secret protection

The Google struggle with the U.S. Justice Department has more to do with trade secrets than with individual privacy, experts say. Despite the individual outcry that followed the Government’s announcement, legal analysts and Google executives alike see no reason for “normal” users to panic.

“This particular subpoena does not raise serious privacy issues,” said Timothy Wu, a law professor at Columbia.

The American Civil Liberties Union, always a champion of individual rights, will be supporting Google but not on privacy grounds. “We will probably not be making that argument,” ACLU lawyer Aden J. Fine said.

The ACLU itself is the source of the brouhaha, having challenged the Child Online Protection Act, a 1998 law that has yet to see the light of legal day because of injunctions. One of the main arguments made by the Government is that Internet searches will reveal offensive materials that computer-based filters will not stop. And the Government has asked the major Internet search engine companies to provide frameworks for testing that hypothesis.

Google lawyer Ashok Ramani has asserted that the company was fighting the seizure mandate more for company business reasons than for any user-friendly reasons. “Google objects,” Ramani argued, “because to comply with the request could endanger its crown-jewel trade secrets.”

Indeed, that seems more likely as the main reason for Google to resist. Yahoo, America Online, and MSN have already turned over information demanded by the U.S. Government subpoena. Representatives of all of those companies said they saw no reason not to comply because they found no privacy issues in releasing the information to the Government.

Google has yet to respond to the subpoena officially in court. That day might come soon. If current thinking is any guidebook, the Internet search giant will continue to refuse what it sees as efforts to raid its company store secrets.

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