It was hard to know which story yesterday was scarier: Osama bin Laden, still alive and taunting the U.S., or the Justice Department's trying to force Google to turn over a suspiciously broad array of information on millions of users' searches and Web addresses, supposedly to investigate online crime involving pornography.
The Internet is full of vile diversions, but prying without justification is just as vile.
Innocent Americans - not just lonely guys in their boxers - could be swept up in the fishnet dragnet. Who decides what is porn? Will those who Google to find out-of-print copies of Lynne Cheney's juicy, cheesy lesbian Old West novel, "Sisters," be suspect? (The cheapest copy at Alibris.com is $195.)
I just don't get why it's so hard to find Osama. So what if he's in what is often described as "the impossibly rugged mountain terrain" of Pakistan? We send people to the Moon, and W. wants to send someone to Mars. What's more impossibly rugged terrain than that?
If we can brave Big Brother, we could probably find Osama's lair on Google Earth (but not Dick Cheney's - it's censored).
The White House has always seemed less compelled to capture Osama than to use him as a pretext for invading Iraq and as a political selling point. Karl Rove, coming out of his "please don't indict me" crouch, tried to chase away the taint of the Abramoff scandal with a new round of terror-mongering for 2006: "We need a commander in chief and a Congress who understand the nature of the threat and the gravity of this moment. President Bush and the Republican Party do. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for many Democrats."
So why did the White House set aside the gravest threat of all?
Oh, I think we know why. They need him.