RealTime IT News

Google Rebuffs DoJ's Porn Data Order

Google said Thursday it would "vigorously" resist complying with a federal court order to turn over data the Department of Justice (DoJ) deems necessary for its flagging constitutional defense of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA).

COPA has been in legal limbo since 1998, when Congress passed the legislation making it a criminal act to post free online material considered to be "harmful to minors." Felony penalties range from up to $50,000 per day and up to six months imprisonment.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and other public advocates immediately went to court to block the law. The case has twice been before the Supreme Court and twice been sent back to a lower court where it awaits trial.

The ACLU contends the law is unconstitutional on free speech grounds and that there are less draconian ways to protect children while they are online; primarily, filters.

For its defense of COPA, the DoJ wants to know just how effective filters are and the real data rests in the databases of Google and other search engines. The DoJ issued subpoenas for the data it is seeking and, according to the DoJ, "Google has refused to comply…in any way."

The government on Wednesday filed a motion to comply with its subpoena in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Google, for its part, issued a statement: "Google is not a party to this lawsuit and their demand for information overreaches. We had lengthy discussions with them to try to resolve this, but were not able to and we intend to resist their motion vigorously."

A DoJ official testifying Thursday before the Senate Commerce Committee on Internet pornography refused to comment on inquires from lawmakers since the case is now in litigation.

According to the motion, the DoJ is seeking "the text of each search string entered into Google's search engine over a one week period (absent any information identifying the person who entered such query)."

The motion also reveals the government originally sought from Google an electronic file containing "all URL's that are available to be located through a query on your company's search engine as of July 1, 2005."

After, again "lengthy negotiations," the DoJ narrowed the subpoena request to one million random sample search queries before finally settling on one week's worth of queries.

"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," the motion states.

The DoJ claims the discovery of the data assists the "efforts to understand the behavior of current Web users, to estimate how often Web users encounter harmful-to-minors material in the course of their searches, and to measure the effectiveness of filtering software in screening that material."

The motion also states that "other" search engines have complied with the DoJ subpoenas. Bloomberg reported late Thursday night that Yahoo, the nation's second largest search engine behind Google, had complied with the government request for anonymous search engine data.

'We did not provide any personal information in response to the Department of Justice's subpoena. In our opinion this is not a privacy issue," Bloomberg quotes a Yahoo official.

Microsoft, the number three-ranked U.S. search engine, did not immediately respond to an inquiry about its compliance with the DoJ subpoena.

According to the DoJ's compliance motion, "The government has issued subpoenas to, and has received compliance from, other entities that operate search engines and each of those entities has produced electronic files that contain the text of search strings, but..do not contain any additional personal identifying information."