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Searching for Answers

"Robert Kuttner, writing about a different controversy in the Boston Globe, shows serious symptoms of the affliction when he writes, 'Google plus Dick Cheney is a recipe for undoing the liberties for which the original patriots of the American Revolution bled and died.'

"On the narrow point about Dick Cheney, this is all a bunch of nonsense. The Department of Justice is in a lawsuit with the ACLU over the Child Online Protection Act, which is designed to help prevent kids from being exposed to online porn. The law ran afoul of the First Amendment, according to a lower court, and the Supreme Court asked for additional information pending its final decision on the matter. The Department of Justice asked Google, as well as MSN, Yahoo!, and Time Warner (AOL's parent), to provide data on their search engines from a one-week period. (The Associated Press scarily refers to the request as a 'White House subpoena,' as if the White House could actually issue subpoenas.) No personal information was asked for and none has been given. Everyone but Google complied, because there's really no reason not to. Google, however, sees itself in a very idealistic light and has decided to stand on principle against the government, prompting huzzahs from all the predictable sources."

Are people nervous? The NYT rounds up some Googlers:

"Kathryn Hanson, a former telecommunications engineer who lives in Oakland, Calif., was looking at BBC News online last week when she came across an item about a British politician who had resigned over a reported affair with a 'rent boy.'

"It was the first time Ms. Hanson had seen the term, so, in search of a definition, she typed it into Google. As Ms. Hanson scrolled through the results, she saw that several of the sites were available only to people over 18. She suddenly had a frightening thought. Would Google have to inform the government that she was looking for a rent boy - a young male prostitute?

"Ms. Hanson, 45, immediately told her boyfriend what she had done. 'I told him I'd Googled "rent boy," just in case I got whisked off to some Navy prison in the dead of night,' she said."

Former CNN correspondent Rebecca MacKinnon works the China angle:

"So it has happened. Google has caved in. It has agreed to actively censor a new Chinese-language search service that will be housed on computer servers inside the PRC.

"Obviously this contradicts its stated desire to make information freely available to everybody on the planet, and it contradicts its mission statement: 'don't be evil.' As Mike Langberg at the San Jose Mercury News puts it: their revised motto should now read 'don't be evil more than necessary.' . . .

"Google says they will put up a notice at the bottom of the search page informing users when the results have been filtered. To my knowledge, none of their competitors in China are doing this. Therefore, while not escaping evilness, they do get a brownie point for being more transparent and honest with Chinese users than their competition. But to see how big this brownie point should be, we need to look at where that notification is placed on the page and how obvious it is to the user. We also need to see whether the Chinese government tries to get them to remove that notice, and if so whether they hold their ground."

All right, the season of SOTU leaks is officially under way:

New York Times: "Having stabilized his political standing after a difficult 2005, President Bush is heading into his State of the Union address on Tuesday intent primarily on retaining his party's slim majority in Congress this year and completing unfinished business from his existing agenda.

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