Google Wrestles With Brazil's Requests For User Data On American Servers

Aug 24, 2006 (04:08 PM EDT)

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A recent lawsuit filed by Brazilian prosecutors seeks information from Google Brazil about Orkut users for investigations involving hate crime, pornography, and child pornography.

Earlier this week, Google filed a petition with Brazilian courts to appoint an independent expert to verify that information about users of Google's social networking site Orkut resides on servers in the United States and not in Brazil.

This is not to say that Google is refusing to cooperate, as the company did when the U.S. Department of Justice asked for user search data to resuscitate the controversial Child Online Protection Act. Rather Google wants Brazilian authorities to seek information through proper legal channels.

"It is and always has been our intention to be as cooperative in the investigation and prosecution of crimes as we possibly can, while being careful to balance the interests of our users, our business and the request from the authorities," Google said in a statement. "We have and will continue to provide Brazilian authorities with information on users who abuse the Orkut service, if their requests are reasonable and follow an appropriate legal process. In fact, we have already produced data in response to criminal court orders issued by Brazilian courts that are addressed to Google Inc. and served on its counsel in Brazil."

Since April, Google has supplied information to Brazilian authorities in response to at least 15 criminal court orders and has retained user data in more than 70 others, according to a Google spokesperson. Two weeks ago, Google said that since June, it had provided information in eight different investigations and had retained user data in 60 cases. Assuming this rate of legal inquiry continues throughout the year, Google has to be dealing with hundreds of data requests annually in Brazil alone.

Google declined to say how many data requests it gets from U.S. authorities. A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice said the government doesn't track the number of subpoenas directed at search engines but acknowledged that the DoJ is getting more data from search engines than in the past because online crime has become more common.