As announced last year, Google Scholar searches now include legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate, and supreme courts. An earlier review said that it would not replace commerical case law providers but that it does offer is an amazing place to start case research. A new review echoes those findings:
- Google Scholar: A New Way to Search for Cases and Related Legal Publications, By David Tsai and Courtney Minick, LLRX (December 30, 2009). [Previously Posted by: The Bar Association of San Francisco, republished with permission.]
...Google Scholar will not replace commercial legal publishers such as LexisNexis® or Westlaw® any time soon. The value in paid services lies mostly in the editorial work they provide on top of caselaw -- e.g., headnotes and cite checking features...
Something else to keep in mind -- Google Scholar is limited to case law, and does not include statutes or regulations...
All together, many lawyers have concluded that Google Scholar is a great place to conduct preliminary research, or to review new cases that have not yet been affected by precedent.
Nowadays you will find that there is hardly a day that goes by in which google is not in the media spotlight. Topics having to do with Google are limitless.
In today's New York times, Op-Ed Contributor Adam Raff, a co-founder of Foundem, an Internet technology firm, is asking people to demand that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) work toward "search neutrality." The premise of his argument is that in order to ensure equal access to the infrastructure of the Internet, FCC needs to impose regulations not only on Internet service providers but also on search engine companies. Raff points out:
Today, search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s new Bing have become the Internet’s gatekeepers, and the crucial role they play in directing users to Web sites means they are now as essential a component of its infrastructure as the physical network itself.
I think Raff is making an important argument here: search engines are a key part of the Internet's infrastructure. When we consider search engines as infrastructure it puts the Internet into a public utility dimension like electricity, telephone etc. If that's the case, then the public has a right to input into how search engines should work. I don't think there is any neutral search engine (sponsored links anyone?!) but it's worthwhile to think about search engine as public infrastructure.
Currently Google controls over 70% of the search market and over 95% of Google's revenue comes from ad revenue. So it's clear that search results are not all about relevancy but are related to how Google can generate more profit through the placement of ads. If search engines were part of the public Internet infrastructure, then what would it look like? Can we find a model somewhere? How about libraries as a model?
Google announced recently that Google Scholar searches would now include legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate, and supreme courts. There is an early review of this service at LLRX:
- Bridging the DiGital Divide: A New Vendor in Town? Google Scholar Now Includes Case Law. By John J. DiGilio, LLRX (November 18, 2009).
Is Google Scholar a replacement for the more expensive case law providers on the market? DiGilio says not really, but that it does offer is an amazing place to start case research.
An announcement from Google and more articles about the federal government's cloud computing initiative (see: Feds go for the Clouds) help reveal the advantages and difficulties of the initiative.
- Google Apps and Government, by Matthew Glotzbach, Director, Product Management, Google Enterprise Official Google Enterprise Blog (September 15, 2009).
- Government Steps Into The Cloud, By Charles Babcock InformationWeek (Sept. 15, 2009)
- Google Plans Private Government Cloud, By Thomas Claburn, InformationWeek(September 16, 2009).
According to Babcock, "Federal CIO Vivek Kundra made it clear Tuesday that curtailing the constant buildout of federal data centers was one of his goals." The government is investigating ways that "private suppliers of cloud services can be substituted for building more government data centers."
Babcock reports that Kundra recognizes the security issues:
While there is agreement on the general outline of cloud computing, security in the cloud needs to be better defined and implemented, Kundra said.
...Users who ship data to the cloud will need contractual guarantees that it will be maintained with the same level of security as it was in-house, but neither vendors nor users are sure yet how such guarantees can be made.
Google's announcement addresses some of the issues of security and responsibility. Google says that it intends to build a separate "Dedicated Google cloud for government customers in the US."
"The government cloud will come from Google-owned-and-operated facilities," said Google Enterprise director of product management Matthew Glotzbach, in a phone interview. "It will be sections of existing facilities. But it will be a fully parallel instance of Google Apps. The difference being we're working with the government to meet the specific needs of government data regulations."
...Google's reticence to allow IT professionals to inspect its data centers as part of their due diligence has been a source of criticism in the past.
So, the emphasis in the government announcements is on cost savings and efficency tempered with an awareness of the need for security and accountability. As I said in an earlier post, it seems that this is probably a step forward for government information technology, but it remains to be seen if it is a step forward for government information.
In trying to decide where to start our blog, we have been discussing all the different topics that interest us related to government information, but that discussion leads us from one corner of the earth to another. Issues of information access are central to just about any aspect of governance, from the neighborhood watch to the United Nations. So we thought perhaps it would be best to start with a few personal reflections and opinions.
Readers who know us, know that we are strong advocates for permanent public access to government information. It seems counterintuitive to those of us grew up in a time when, for the cost of a few good sneezes, we could dig up just about anything from the dusty bowels of our favorite research library. But permanent access is something we cannot take for granted in a time when a small agency that has little interaction with the public can press a button and delete a good chunk of its history without stirring up any notice -- yet it’s double-edged sword. The technology that makes it so easy for valuable information to disappear also empowers all of us to participate in a truly democratic process at a global scale like never before.
In this modern information universe, of course, the only way to begin any inquiry is with a Google search. So let’s see what we get.
"Free Government Information" returns 24,300 hits, topped off by ours truly. A quick scan down the list shows that the bulk of the hits are to sites discussing or linking to FGI, so it’s only somewhat enlightening. One thing that pops out to us is the fact that people are using the terms "open government," "transparency," and "free government information" interchangeably and differently depending on context. You see quotes like "open government leads to transparency," while others take transparency as an element of open government. Of course the bulk of them are political in nature, concentrating on government information policy, from the radicals at Radical Reference to pretty tame municipal government sites on open meetings. But some interesting snippets caught our eye.
There’s a conspiracy website whose motto is "Those who are unaware are unaware that they are unaware." Our first inclination is to shrug it off, but it’s something to make note of. In the current public debate over health care reform, it’s fascinating to see how deeply these kinds of ideas affect -- at times it seems, even steer the public debate. Even if we can’t take these ideas themselves seriously, the fact that so many people take them very seriously and consider them the main point of connection between their lives and the government is sobering, and vital to a clear understanding of our political landscape. The fact that a search of "free government information" places this near the top of the list is telling.
We are scanning for other weird, fun, and offbeat sites to cover in the next few posts. Until then …
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), those defenders of online free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights, have begun an action to tell Google to protect reader privacy. Please sign the petition and send a clear message to Google CEO Eric Schmidt to protect reader privacy.
- Protect your reading records from government and third party fishing expeditions by responding only to properly-issued warrants and court orders, and by letting you know if someone has demanded access to information Google has collected about you.
- Make sure that you can still browse and read anonymously by not forcing you to register or give personal information and by deleting any logging information for all services after a maximum of 30 days.
- Separate data related to Google Book Search from any other information the company collects about you, unless you give it express permission.
- Give you the ability to edit and delete any information collected about you, transfer books from one account to another without tracking, and hide your "bookshelves" or other reading lists from others with access to your computer.
- Keep Google Book Search information private from third parties like credit card processors, book publishers, and advertisers.
And since Google is clearly angling itself as a "library" -- even publishing a "Google librarian newsletter"! -- I would ask all who submit an EFF petition to include the American Library Association's (ALA) Library Bill of Rights and a link to the ALA Intellectual Freedom Manual, which states:
Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought, and free association. The courts have established a First Amendment right to receive information in a publicly funded library. Further, the courts have upheld the right to privacy based on the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. Many states provide guarantees of privacy in their constitutions and statute law. Numerous decisions in case law have defined and extended rights to privacy.
In a library (physical or virtual), the right to privacy is the right to open inquiry without having the subject of one’s interest examined or scrutinized by others. Confidentiality exists when a library is in possession of personally identifiable information about users and keeps that information private on their behalf.
Protecting user privacy and confidentiality has long been an integral part of the mission of libraries. The ALA has affirmed a right to privacy since 1939. Existing ALA policies affirm that confidentiality is crucial to freedom of inquiry. Rights to privacy and confidentiality also are implicit in the Library Bill of Rights’ guarantee of free access to library resources for all users.
--Privacy: an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights
Ars Technica has a good evaluation of Google Lab's new product Google Squared.
- Google squares the Web, hilarity ensues, By John Timmer, Ars Technica, June 4, 2009.
Timmer says that Google Squared "takes a spreadsheet-like approach to finding information on the Web. It's tempting to speculate that this is a bit of a response to Wolfram Alpha..." (see Making the world's knowledge computable).
Unfortunately, so far, the results are decidedly mixed. "Google Labs have admitted, knowing how to populate both the rows and columns is a real challenge. Think how often inappropriate results appear within the top 10 results of a search, and you'll get a sense of how often the wrong material shows up in the rows."
Where Wolfram apparently takes the approach of building a database of information and presenting information from it intelligently, Google apparently takes the approach of using the entire web as a "database" and hope it can algorithmically build a valid table of results on the fly.
Search is too important to leave to one company – even Google, by Cory Doctorow, The Guardian, 2 June 2009.
It's a terrible idea to vest this much power with one company, even one as fun, user-centered and technologically excellent as Google. It's too much power for a handful of companies to wield.
The question of what we can and can't see when we go hunting for answers demands a transparent, participatory solution. There's no dictator benevolent enough to entrust with the power to determine our political, commercial, social and ideological agenda. This is one for The People.
I'm not talking about Google's advanced search. I'm talking about it's new search options like "timeline" and "wonder wheel." If not, check out the video:
- Google Search Options May 11, 2009.
"Google's Search options let you slice and dice your search results, explore your search and generate different views of your results page to more easily and quickly find what you need."
What Google knows about you. "Google may know more about you than your mother does. Got a problem with that?" By Robert L. Mitchell, Computerworld, May 11, 2009.
Online tools really aren't free. We pay for them with micropayments of personal information