informa
/
3 MIN READ
News

UPDATE: Feds Seek Google Search Records In Porn Investigation

The DOJ is seeking the data to bolster its claims that the Child Online Protection Act, intended to protect children from online obscenity, does not violate the Constitution. Yahoo cooperated with a similar request.
"Thank God Google is turning this into an issue, so we can even have this debate," he wrote in an E-mail.

The debate, of course, has to do with privacy, though the government contends otherwise.

"What an outrage!" says Paul Alan Levy, an attorney with the litigation group of nonprofit consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen. "There are two kinds of questions that are raised here. One is what ought a court to do about a subpoena like this? Our general view is that because Internet activity is a form of speech or association, there ought to be some standard of proof that a party seeking such discovery ought to be able to meet before obtaining information."

"The second problem," he continues, "is ISPs should be aware of the danger of such subpoenas and really should be thinking very hard about how much of this information they ought to be retaining."

That's a view shared by Sherwin Siy, staff counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington, D.C.-based privacy advocacy group. "We think it's commendable for Google to take a stand against turning this information over wholesale," he says. "On the other hand, Google wouldn't have this problem to begin with if it didn't keep this information and store it."

Even if the courts uphold COPA, it's still not clear COPA would do much good.

"Even if COPA were to pass constitutional muster, experts say that parents would find it of little solace as the vast majority of Internet pornography — about 75% — comes to the U.S. from overseas Web servers outside the jurisdictional reach of U.S. laws and enforcement," said Tim Lordan, executive director of nonprofit advocacy group Internet Education Foundation, in testimony Thursday before the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce & Transportation. Lorgan cited the findings of a National Academy of Sciences panel assigned by Congress to study the issue.

Parry Aftab, a cyberspace lawyer who runs WiredSafety.org, an online safety group to protect children online, said the identification requirements of COPA violate the privacy of adults.

"There is not yet a way to identify that somebody is an adult without also identifying who they are," she explains. "And in this country, adults are allowed to view legal pornography without having to identify who they are. You might have to flash a driver's license to show that you're over 21 but nobody writes it down."

Contrary to what the Justice Department seeks to prove in the name of child safety, Aftab -- who specializes in online privacy and security law -- says filtering software is a much better solution than legislation.

She advocates improved user education and perhaps free filtering software, adding that parents don't use filters. "I talk to on average 500 to 1000 parents per month," she says. "They are the most clueless group you've ever seen in your life."

She added, "I would like them to take one-tenth of the money that it would take Google to comply with this request and put it into an educational program" to teach parents about their options.

Editor's Choice
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter
Roger Burkhardt, Capital Markets Chief Technology Officer, Broadridge Financial Solutions
Shane Snider, Senior Writer, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author