News.com reports that Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont has sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, asking for more information about the subpoenas for search records from Google, Yahoo, MSN, and AOL.
In a two-page letter [PDF also available here] sent Tuesday to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont asked the department to outline the type of information it has requested, its reasons for the requests, the steps it is taking to safeguard any data obtained, and any plans to issue additional subpoenas in the future.
From the Leahy’s letter where he askes Gonzales for several specific answers:
I am interested in learning more about the extent to which the Department of Justice is relying upon data mining of the Internet search queries made by law-abiding American citizens to support its efforts under the COPA and how the Department is addressing the privacy and civil liberties concerns raised by the collection, storage and use of such data.
Specifically, I ask for and would appreciate your responses to the following questions:
1. According to press reports, the Department of Justice issued subpoenas for records to Google, Inc, America Online, Inc., Microsoft Network, and Yahoo, Inc. (collective, the ?Internet Companies?) in connection with ongoing civil litigation involving the legality of the COPA. Please state whether any, or all, of the Department?s subpoenas to the Internet companies were issued in connection with this, or any other, civil or criminal litigation or investigation.
2. Please identify the type(s) of information and/or data that the Department requested in its subpoenas for records issued to the Internet companies — including whether the Department requested, or obtained, any personal identifying information and/or data in connection with the subpoenas — and state how the Department intends to use this commercial information and/or data.
3. Please state what, if any, safeguards are in place within the Department of Justice to protect the privacy of the millions of American people who conduct searches on the Internet in light of the Department?s requests for this commercial information and/or data?
4. Please state whether the Department will issue any additional subpoenas to the Internet Companies and, if so, state whether any such subpoenas will seek personally identifiable information.
5. Please provide any documentation that relates to, or supports, the answers to these questions.
A US Justice Department spokesman said that they will respond to Senator Leahy’s questions.
As for the privacy concerns raised by Leahy, “We’ve addressed that in our subpoenas and to the search engines,” Miller said. “We weren’t seeking information about the individuals, we were only seeking the search terms….We don’t even want to know the names of the people.”
You’ve got to wonder if Congressional hearings might be in the works if the responses Leahy receives aren’t satisfactory?
For more on the Internet, privacy, keeping “objectionable” material from minors on the Internet and more, here’s a collection of reports from the Congressional Research Service.