Opinion: Conroy is right to question Google's privacy record

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Opinion: Conroy is right to question Google's privacy record

Google gives the US Government access to Gmail, says iTnews' editor.

Google should not expect to be beyond international criticism while it offers the US Government access to its data on request but lambasts other governments for interfering with the rights of online users.

It has been telling to watch some of our peers in the press work the controversy over Senator Conroy's criticism of Google's privacy record on ABC radio last week as he was questioned on his internet filtering policy.

The headlines only illustrated the ferocity of opposition to Conroy's nanny-state filter and just how well marketed Google's "do no evil" mantra is. Scribes just couldn't believe a minister would have the nerve to question Google.

Like or loathe his policy, the Senator has grounds to point out the contradiction Google is in. The search company condemns the Chinese Government for censoring its results and Australia for planning to do the same while it breaks faith with its users around the world by sharing their data with the US Government.

The Patriot Act introduced by President Bush - which allows US authorities to search telecommunications and email communications to fight the 'war on terror' - was not designed by Google. But complying with it places the company in an awkward position.

Google chief executive officer Eric Schmidt admitted the company is at times compelled to share data with the US Government.

Representatives from Google Australia have since confirmed the company's policy of complying with these United States government regulations.

"We're committed to protecting user privacy when faced with law enforcement requests, and have a track record of advocating on behalf of users in the face of such requests," the company told iTnews in a statement. "We scrutinise each one to ensure that it adheres to both the letter and the spirit of the law before complying, and do our best to notify the subject named in any such requests to give them the opportunity to object.

"Like all law-abiding companies, we comply with U.S. laws and legal processes."

Google is  thus in a contradictory position to comment on government interference with a citizen's data. It says, like the government, that it only wants to interfere with a customer's data in the case of suspected child porn - which sounds straight out of the Minister's songbook. 

At least Australians have always known where we stand with Senator Conroy and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Whether we like it or not, both of our major political parties have promised their stakeholders an internet filter for some time. And Senator Conroy always has the advantage of leaning back on the fact that the ALP - at a high level - made its "cyber-safety" agenda public before it was elected to government.

I don't expect opponents of the filter are going to let Senator Conroy steamroll filtering legislation through Parliament without a very good and worthy fight. But I'd suggest activists be wary of their allies.

After all, as Australian citizens we can always vote the Rudd Government out if it displeases us.

We have far less power over Google.

Editor's note - This story previously referred to an extract by a local Google engineer recorded at a conference in New Zealand. Google has since made an official response to the issue (as stated in the copy above) conceding that it does indeed provide access to the US Government upon request and the story has been amended with the official response.

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