US court sets date for Google hearing

Google Inc. attorneys will square off against the U.S. Departmentof Justice (DOJ) at a Feb. 27 hearing over the issue of providingthe government with information about searches for pornography onthe company’s site.

U.S. District Court Judge James Ware on Thursday set that hearingdate in the case, which will be heard in the U.S. District Courtfor the Northern District of California in San Jose. U.S. AttorneyGeneral Alberto Gonzales filed a motion in that court to compelGoogle to comply with a subpoena for search records. The DOJ claimsthat it needs the records to bolster its argument that a federallaw is more effective than filtering software when it comes torestricting access by children under the age of 18 to pornographiccontent on the Internet.

Google has refused to provide the records, which the governmentsays it requires for its defense of a lawsuit brought in 1998 bythe American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenging the ChildOnline Protection Act, which is meant to keep minors from accessingWeb sites with sexually explicit content. The ACLU contends thatthe act violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment right tofreedom of speech.

A Pennsylvania district court granted a motion for a preliminaryinjunction, which was affirmed in 2000 by an appeals court.However, the case then went to the U.S. Supreme Court, whichvacated the appellate ruling and sent it back to the appeals court.The appeals court again affirmed the preliminary injunction. Afteranother Supreme Court review, the case was sent back for trial,leading the DOJ to subpoena Google, America Online Inc., MicrosoftCorp.’s MSN and Yahoo Inc. for search records. All of the companiesbesides Google complied, to some degree or other, with thesubpoenas.

Privacy advocates and search-engine users are among those watchingthe case with keen interest.

The Feb. 27 hearing will begin at 9 a.m. Besides setting that date,Ware also set a Feb. 6 date for Google to file its response inopposition to the DOJ’s motion to compel and a Feb. 13 date for theDOJ to file its reply to whatever Google has to say.

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