U.S. Ramps Up Pressure to Unblock COPA Ruling

Rhett Pardon
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department said in a court filing that Google’s legal challenge to block a review of a week’s worth of search terms amounts to the search engine holding up government efforts to protect children from Internet porn.

Federal prosecutors are asking for the information in order to fight the blocking of the 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA) by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Internet filters are not good enough to prevent minors from viewing inappropriate material online, Justice attorneys argued in a brief submitted to the court Friday.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google has been blocking federal attempts to obtain 1 million pages of data, as well as copies of a week's worth of search terms, since last summer, when it received a subpoena asking it to comply. The Justice Department then took the search engine giant to court, and a hearing is scheduled for March 13.

Regulators now have tapped Berkeley statistics professor Philip Stark to help bolster the defense of COPA in ACLU vs. Gonzales, No. 98-5591. Stark argues that Google's privacy claims are unfounded.

“The government seeks to determine whether COPA is moreeffective than content filters at blocking sexually explicit material on the Internet from view by minors,” Stark told the court.

Stark said that a request was attached to the Google subpoena that said user information should be left out, and that the information was to be run through a program that would only look for the data the government was looking for.

The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging COPA, arguing that websites cannot realistically comply with it and that the law violates the right to freedom of speech mandated by the 1st Amendment.

The Justice Department, however, is seeking to highlight flaws in web filtering technology during a trial this fall.

"The government has a legitimate need for the disclosure of data that is uniquely in Google's possession,” regulators told the court. “The balance certainly weighs in favor of disclosure of any alleged trade secrets."

The Justice Department requested that Google be given 21 days to comply with the court's order.

Google did not respond to XBiz for comment Monday morning.