Sunday, January 22, 2006

Warm Beer

American beer, unlike European beer, is brewed to be served chilled. There are very few things worse than drinking warm beer, especially on a hot day. An exception to this statement might be reading a tepid editorial on a hot subject, and an editorial in today's LA Times proves my point.

THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT TOOK Google to court last week, demanding that the search-engine powerhouse give up a prodigious amount of data about what people look for online.

The department's aim is to defend the controversial Child Online Protection Act, a 1998 law that, if allowed to go into effect, would require websites to shield minors from material that's suitable only for adults by demanding a credit card or other proof of age. Justice Department lawyers say they are trying to show how often Web users encounter X-rated content and to see how much of the material could be blocked by a filtering program on the user's computer.

The Bush administration's goal is to satisfy the Supreme Court, which issued a preliminary ruling against the act in 2004. In a 5-4 decision, the high court held that the government had not shown the act to be more effective and less restrictive than filtering technology.

It is not at all clear why the government needs such a staggering amount of data from Google to make its case — which is essentially that Web filters are not as effective at blocking porn as the threat of prosecution, and that they pose at least as many problems to free speech. Filters have been blasted by technology advocates and civil libertarians, who say the software often fails to catch many sources of unsuitable material while blocking too much that isn't smut. Then again, a frontal assault on filters would be awkward for the Justice Department, which successfully defended another federal law that requires libraries to use them.

The department's research also evokes concerns about what the government might ultimately do with its snapshot of Web-searching habits. The feds originally asked Google to disclose two months' worth of search inquiries, then pared their request to one week. The list wouldn't include any information about the users who did the searches, but prosecutors could certainly demand such details from Google if they came across any searches that were troubling — "how to hide a methamphetamine lab," say, or "cellphone detonate plastic explosive."

...By resisting the feds' subpoena, however, the company has set itself above the search-engine pack — and given users a valuable reminder that searching through the Web leaves a trail.
[Emphasis added]

The editorialist almost got it. That the government demands these kind of web records is outrageous in its assault on both the First and Fourth Amendments. What indeed will this regime do with all of the data this is sure to uncover? Will it combine the results with those of the NSA illegal wire-tapping, thereby subjecting innocent people to a profile within the FBI and DFI that will haunt them the rest of their lives and the lives of their families? Given the track record of the last five years, that is certainly a very real possibility.

But did the editorial castigate the government for this latest example of spying on the private lives of citizens? No, unfortunately, it did not. Instead the editorial issues a weak warning that "searching through the Web leaves a trail." One is reminded of former Press Secretary Ari Fleischer's ominous warning to Americans after 9/11: "People need to watch what they what they do."

I'd rather drink warm beer.


Blogger Eli said...

I was kinda expecting an editorial *about* warm beer. Does LAT still do those occasional "wacky" editorials where they try to be irreverent and funny? God, those sucked...

11:34 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home