ACLU Joins Google Subpoena Fight

The American Civil Liberties Union and a consortium of other advocacy groups and online publishers have weighed in on Google's side in its fight against the federal government, which has subpoenaed one million URLs in the company's index and one week's worth of search queries from the search giant.

The government subpoenaed the information in an attempt to prove that the 1998 Child Online Protection Act is necessary to shield children from pornography on the Web. The law is being challenged by the ACLU and other groups, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Philadelphia Gay News, and Salon Media Group, who argue that the statue violates free speech rights of publishers by forcing them to suppress lawful material.

The government maintains that the law is necessary because, it says, Web filters and other less restrictive measures aren't sufficient to render pornography inaccessible to children online. In its attempt to prove the law is constitutional, the government has subpoenaed information from Google about its search engine and queries received.

Federal District Court Judge James Ware will hear arguments about the subpoena next month.

The ACLU and Google both argue that the government hasn't shown how the information about Google's index or queries will yield relevant data about the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act.

"As Google has explained to the government for months, search queries and randomly selected URLs from Google's index not only have no correlative value in a vacuum, but any study conducted without understanding Google's system will produce misleading and grossly inaccurate test results, and as a consequence, will not lead to admissible evidence," wrote Google in its papers.

The ACLU also opposes the government's subpoena, complaining in its legal papers that "the government has refused to divulge what it plans to do with the requested information or to provide any details about its methodology for analyzing the information and testing the effectiveness of filtering products based on the information requested from Google."

The ACLU also warned that it will seek a host of additional information from Google if the company is forced to comply with the subpoena. "In order to assess the reliability of the sample of information provided by Google," wrote the ACLU, "plaintiffs will likely need to know, among other things, how many total URLs Google has in its database, how often Google updates its database, how and where Google crawls the Web to locate URLs for its database, how many different servers those URLs are stored on, where those servers are located, and how many URLs there are within each server."

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