Tim Wu has A simple prescription for keeping Google's records out of government hands.
"the big news for most Americans shouldn't be that the administration wants yet more confidential records. It should be the revelation that every single search you've ever conducted—ever—is stored on a database, somewhere. Forget e-mail and wiretaps—for many of us, there's probably nothing more embarrassing than the searches we've made over the last decade. Google's campus LCD sounds like it's just fun and games, but when a search can be linked to you (through the IP address recorded by Google), that's a lot less fun. And when, as we're seeing, it can all be demanded by the government, that's no fun at all.
Google is being commended by many for standing up to the Bush administration. But however brave Google's current stance may be, the legal debate over Google's compliance misses the deeper and more urgent point: By keeping every search ever made on file, the search-engine companies are helping create the problem in the first place. In the wake of what we're seeing with this subpoena controversy, the industry must change the way it preserves and records our search results and must publicly pledge not to keep any identifying information unless required by court order. This has nothing to do with our mistrust of Google and everything to do with mistrust of the range of government actors—domestic and foreign—that Google must ultimately obey...
Google and other search engines argue—with some justification—that preserving search records is important to making their product the best it can be. By looking at trillions of search-result pages, Google, for example, can do things like offer a good guess when you've spelled something wrong – "Did you mean: Condoleezza Rice?" And Google's "Zeitgeist" feature is able to tell you what the top searches are every week and year—a neat way of tracking other people's passing obsessions. But even though keeping such logs may make their product better, or more fun on the margin, the justifications for keeping so many secrets in such a vulnerable place are just too weak.
Imagine we were to find out one day that Starbucks had been recording everyone's conversations for the purpose of figuring out whether cappuccino is more popular than macchiato. Sure, the result, on the margin, might be a better coffee product. And, yes, we all know, or should, that our conversations at Starbucks aren't truly private. But we'd prefer a coffee shop that wasn't listening—and especially one that won't later be able to identify the macchiato lovers by name. We need to start to think about search engines the same way and demand the same freedoms.
It all goes back to this basic point: How free you are corresponds exactly to how free you think you are. And Americans today feel great freedom to tell their deepest secrets; secrets they won't share with their spouses or priests, to their computers. The Luddites were right—our closest confidants today are robots."