Secret Requests For Search Records Through Patriot Act Ruled Unconstitutional

A US district court judge has ruled that it is unconstitutional for the US government to send secret letters demanding search records from search engines. A provision of the Patriot Act has allowed for such letters to be sent to search engines, ISPs and others by the Federal Bureau Of Investigation — and made it illegal for companies getting such FBI demands to even reveal the requests at all in general. Today’s ruling found that violated free speech rights.

Judge deals blow to Patriot Act from and Judge fails to see patriotic side of FBI gags on Net service providers from Good Morning Silicon Valley have good rundowns on the decision, which is expected to be appealed. It’s not clear whether companies that received such demands can now reveal them or if they must wait until the case works through higher courts.

Have search companies even received such demands? We don’t know, because the law would have prevented them from saying so. Indeed, one of my favorite part of John Battelle’s The Search is when he covers the Patriot Act and how it applies to search engines. He asks Google’s Sergey Brin in 2005 about the Patriot Act and Google’s stance on it. Sergey replies that he hadn’t read it but after hearing the issues thinks "concerns are overstated" and adds:

There has never been an incident that I am aware of where any search company, or Google for that matter, has somehow divulged information about a searcher.

John then notes to Sergey that any case like this under the Patriot Act wouldn’t come to light because of the secrecy provisions. That got Sergey to say that he felt the act became a "problem," then Google would change its policy.

Google famously stood up to the US Justice Department’s demands for some pretty anonymous search data back in 2006, so I suspect that if Google had been getting a lot of Patriot Act requests, they’ve have been noisy about it despite the law. But then again, if the law finally and fully changes, we won’t have to wonder about requests to the major search engines.

By the way, I’d embed the quote from John’s book with Google’s handy new quote embedding tool that we covered today in Google Book Search Adds My Library, Popular Passages, Embedded Quotes & More. Unfortunately, his publisher doesn’t allow the book in Google Book Search (I can’t find his post about this, but John himself wishes it were there). However, you can see the actual page itself (page 202) over at Amazon. Use this link.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Legal: Privacy


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • utwatch

    Yeah, that makes sense. Because someone searching for instructions on bomb making along with flight lessons, subway plans, or nuclear facility locations wouldn’t be important to be aware of.

    As long as there is someone to blame after we get attacked then that should make up for lack of preparedness…

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide