US court sets Feb 27 for Google hearing

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

U.S. District Court Judge James Ware on Thursday set that hearing date in the case, which will be heard in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose. U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales filed a motion in that court to compel Google to comply with a subpoena for search records.

The DOJ claims that it needs the records to bolster its argument that a federal law is more effective than filtering software when it comes to restricting access by children under the age of 18 to pornographic content on the Internet.

Google has refused to provide the records, which the government says it requires for its defense of a lawsuit brought in 1998 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenging the Child Online Protection Act, which is meant to keep minors from accessing Web sites with sexually explicit content. The ACLU contends that the act violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

A Pennsylvania district court granted a motion for a preliminary injunction, which was affirmed in 2000 by an appeals court. However, the case then went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which vacated the appellate ruling and sent it back to the appeals court.

The appeals court again affirmed the preliminary injunction. After another Supreme Court review, the case was sent back for trial, leading the DOJ to subpoena Google, America Online Inc., Microsoft Corp.’s MSN and Yahoo Inc. for search records.

All of the companies besides Google complied, to some degree or other, with the subpoenas.

Privacy advocates and search-engine users are among those watching the 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 in opposition to the DOJ’s motion to compel and a Feb. 13 date for the DOJ to file its reply to whatever Google has to say.

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