Searching for Answers

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 26, 2006; 8:51 AM

It looked like Google was taking a principled stance.

The company whose search engine has become so much a part of our lives that it's hard to remember what we did without it--visit the library, maybe?--just said no to a Bush administration subpoena.

I'm accustomed to battles in which the government is investigating a specific person or company and demands evidence (sometimes from news organizations) to help make the case. But in this child-pornography probe, the feds asked for a week's worth of Google searches by everyone--everyone!--which naturally sent a few shivers up a few million spines. Even if you're not hunting down material that some people might find questionable or offensive, who wants someone snooping into the kind of books you read or underwear you buy? (Yes, I know the material was supposed to be anonymous, but look at all the confidential credit-card information that's been leaked, hacked or stolen.)

So when I heard that Google was resisting, I thought man, those founders, Sergei and the other guy, they really stand up for what they believe. (I also had the thought that springs up like a pop-up ad whenever I think of Google: Why didn't I buy the stock ?)

But then Google goes ahead and caves to the Chinese. That is, the government there is now censoring Google searches to block subversive blogs or other nefarious material more suitable for running-dog capitalists.

As of yesterday, if you type in "human rights" or "Tibet," all kinds of articles are off limits, according to this AP account. If you search for the banned Falun Gong, you're directed to government articles denouncing the group.

Pretty sad. The pragmatic expanation is that this is the price of doing business in another country, that you have to play by their rules. But it seems so un-Google-like.

Maureen Dowd has weighed in on the administration's subpoena, saying: "I don't like the thought of Dick Cheney ogling my Googling.

"Because what I'm Googling, of course, is Dick Cheney. I have to constantly monitor how Vice Voyeur is pushing the federal government to constantly monitor millions of ordinary Americans' phone calls, e-mail notes and Internet searches.

"If you want to know why the Grim Peeper is willing to turn this country into a police state to take his version of democracy to other countries, just do a Google search under 'antiterrorism,' 'government snooping,' 'overreaching' and 'fruitcake.'"

Jonah Goldberg takes issue with Dowd:

"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.


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