RECORDS SOUGHT IN U.S. QUEST TO REVIVE PORN LAW
The Bush administration on Wednesday asked a federal judge to order
Google to turn over a broad range of material from its closely guarded databases.
The move is part of a government effort to revive an Internet child protection
law struck down two years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court. The law was meant to
punish online pornography sites that make their content accessible to minors.
The government contends it needs the Google data to determine how often pornography
shows up in online searches.
In court papers filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Justice Department lawyers
revealed that Google has refused to comply with a subpoena issued last year for
the records, which include a request for 1 million random Web addresses and records
of all Google searches from any one-week period.
The Mountain View-based search and advertising giant opposes releasing the information
on a variety of grounds, saying it would violate the privacy rights of its users
and reveal company trade secrets, according to court documents.
Nicole Wong, an associate general counsel for Google, said the company will fight
the government's effort ``vigorously.''
``Google is not a party to this lawsuit, and the demand for the information is
overreaching,'' Wong said.
The case worries privacy advocates, given the vast amount of information Google
and other search engines know about their users.
``This is exactly the kind of case that privacy advocates have long feared,''
said Ray Everett-Church, a South Bay privacy consultant. ``The idea that these
massive databases are being thrown open to anyone with a court document is the
worst-case scenario. If they lose this fight, consumers will think twice about
letting Google deep into their lives.''
Everett-Church, who has consulted with Internet companies facing subpoenas, said
Google could argue that releasing the information causes undue harm to its users'
``The government can't even claim that it's for national security,'' Everett-Church
said. ``They're just using it to get the search engines to do their research for
them in a way that compromises the civil liberties of other people.''
The government argues that it needs the information as it prepares to once again
defend the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act in a federal court
in Pennsylvania. The law was struck down in 2004 because it was too broad and
could prevent adults from accessing legal porn sites.
However, the Supreme Court invited the government to either come up with a less
drastic version of the law or go to trial to prove that the statute does not violate
the First Amendment and is the only viable way to combat child porn.
As a result, government lawyers said in court papers they are developing a defense
of the 1998 law based on the argument that it is far more effective than software
filters in protecting children from porn. To back that claim, the government has
subpoenaed search engines to develop a factual record of how often Web users encounter
online porn and how Web searches turn up material they say is ``harmful to minors.''
The government indicated that other, unspecified search engines have agreed to
release the information, but not Google.
``The production of those materials would be of significant assistance to the
government's preparation of its defense of the constitutionality of this important
statute,'' government lawyers wrote, noting that Google is the largest search
Google has the largest share of U.S. Web searches with 46 percent, according to
November 2005 figures from Nielsen//NetRatings. Yahoo is second with 23 percent,
and MSN third with 11 percent.