That Google was the only company that didn't comply with the government's request for search records last year wasn't surprising, nor was the relief expressed by Google today over the judge's ruling that attempted to alleviate the public's concern about the security of online data.
Many commentators have been discussing the story as if the main issue is the privacy rights of searching, but for Google it's much more than that. What's become clear over time is that Google's long-term business strategy is to get people to search, store and create all of their knowledge online through Google services. Google wants us, ultimately, to store all of our data (documents, pictures, writings, knowledge) and all of our knowledge sources online in a way that they can be easily shared/searched/modified/mashed. Goodbye hard-drive, goodbye local apps: Google wants to provide everything for you. This frees you to access your data whenever you want with whatever machine you want: home PC, work PC, phone, pda-embedded sunglasses, implanted neurochip.
Why does Google have this strategy? Because that's the logical business plan that one would create on the assumption that data storage will be essentially free, wireless broadband access will be available to everyone at all times, and people will have multiple devices with which they can access, store and create their information. Google's original innovation--their search engine--is the linchpin of this personal total-knowledge system.
What could kill this business plan and what will be Google's biggest hurdle to overcome? Distrust by consumers in giving their data/knowledge to Google. Forget people becoming leery of online searches. Google's dreams of being the consumer's omnipresent global knowledge partner would die in a flash if people thought their private data could be compromised. Hence their fight to not turn over search records.
A lawyer for the ACLU was perhaps reading too much altruism in Google's actions when quoted in the New York Times as saying, "The mere fact that Google has stood up to the government is a positive thing." Google was just protecting their long-term business plan.