Asking search engines to censor content that might infringe on a privacy injunction "would be like asking phone companies to listen in on every call made across their networks for potentially suspicious activity," web giant Google said today.
It made its remarks after a committee of Lords and MPs said that Google and other search engines "should take steps to ensure that their websites are not used as vehicles to breach the law and should actively develop and use technology [to do so]."
"We recommend that if legislation is necessary to require them to do so it should be introduced," the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions said.
The committee has been investigating the role of online media outlets in the breach privacy injunctions, such as those taken out by footballer Ryan Giggs and F1 boss Max Mosely.
During the committee’s investigation, Google’s associate general council Daphne Keller had argued that company no mechanism to find multiple instances of an image or text on the web, and no capacity to block access to all those instances.
Keller said that Google would object to such a practice in principle, but admitted there is no technical reason why it could not be possible
"Google acknowledged that it was possible to develop the technology proactively to monitor websites for such material in order that the material does not appear in the results of searches," the committee said in its report. "We find their objections in principle to developing such technology totally unconvincing."
The committee joins a growing number of voices calling for web companies and other Internet intemediaries to accept legal liability for the content that their customers post online. Most recently, governments in the US and Europe have proposed laws that would place greater liability on intermediaries for carrying content that infringes copyright.
However, as the cover feature from this month’s issue of Information Age magazine argues, increased liability for Internet intermediaries may threaten the utility and viability of the cloud computing model.