Censorship concerns over Google in China

On Tuesday, a federal judge ordered Internet search engine Google to provide the Justice Department with information in the interest of fighting the spread of online child pornography.

Google has resisted the request, citing the privacy rights of its users. Curbing child pornography is undoubtedly a noble goal that all citizens should rally behind. However, this ruling sets a troubling precedent.

It raises the question of whether we should take the government at its word when it insists it is only interested in pursuing peddlers of porn.

Given the warrantless wiretapping scandal that the Bush administration and National Security Agency is involved in, perhaps we shouldn’t be so willing to forfeit our rights.

In the 1960s and 70s, the Nixon administration used its power to spy on political enemies and antiwar dissenters. In 1963, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy even authorized the wiretapping of Martin Luther King’s telephone. Historically, as technology has improved and new forms of communication become available, the government has done everything in its power to prevent information from slipping through its fingers. The rights of citizens are often violated in such efforts.

The Internet is a relatively new tool, so there is still uncertainty regarding the legal rights of those who use it versus the power of the government to control it.

This ruling gives the benefit of the doubt to the Justice Department, which is something citizens ought to be skeptical of.

This isn’t to say that Google should be seen as a great defender of speech rights. Recently, the corporation expanded into China and agreed to censor much of its information in compliance with the oppressive Chinese government. Such banned search items include anything relating to Taiwan’s independence and the Tiananmen Square massacre.

In the age of information, Internet corporations like Google have an obligation to fight for the privacy rights of their users against overreaching governments.

The erosion of rights is never something that happens gradually. In the meantime, be careful what you search for.