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Protect Kids Or Kill Trust?

The Justice Department is pressuring Google to turn over records on millions of searches to bolster a law it claims will help shield kids from Internet porn. Google is resisting on grounds the request would identify users, expose trade secrets, and impose an undue burden. Even if privacy isn't at risk, as Justice claims, Google recognizes that the request risks diminishing customer trust--and with that, market share.

Justice is out to prove the Child Online Protection Act, which requires sexually explicit sites to verify that visitors are of legal age, doesn't violate the Constitution. COPA was enacted in 1998 but suspended that same year after a suit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

In its filing with a San Jose, Calif., judge, Justice says it wants Google's data to "support its contention that COPA is more effective than filtering software" in shielding minors from smut. Justice also issued subpoenas to AOL, MSN, and Yahoo, and indicates Google is the only one not cooperating. Yahoo confirmed it complied, saying it's "not a privacy issue" because personal information wasn't disclosed.

Yet one advocate for kids' online safety says putting content filters on the PCs kids use will work better than forc- ing sites to enforce age limits. Parents, not Web-site operators, will deliver better protection, says Parry Aftab, a lawyer who runs WiredSafety .org. Says Aftab, "I would like [Justice] to take one-tenth of the money that it would take Google to comply and put it into an educational program" for parents about protecting kids from porn.

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