More Subpoenas in Suit Over Obscenity Law


Both the Justice Department and the American Civil Liberties Union confirmed yesterday that they had requested and received information from Internet service providers and software makers in connection with an A.C.L.U. lawsuit challenging an anti-pornography law.

Earlier this year it was revealed that the Justice Department, which is defending the law, had subpoenaed information from four search engine companies about keyword requests by users. Although the other search engine companies quickly complied with the request, Google challenged its subpoena. This month a judge ordered the company to provide some information to the Justice Department but not information on individual searches, saying that had the potential to violate the privacy of users.

Last summer, the Justice Department also issued subpoenas to at least

34 Internet service providers and security software companies, according to information the department provided after a Freedom of Information Act request by InformationWeek magazine. The companies subpoenaed included America Online, Comcast, Verizon, EarthLink and Symantec.

The department is defending the Child Online Protection Act, which makes it a crime to post "material that is harmful to minors." Two years ago, the Supreme Court prevented enforcement of the law and ordered a lower court to consider whether filtering software designed to block inappropriate content was a better way to achieve the law's aims. The case goes to trial in October.

Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said the agency had issued the subpoenas "to see the effectiveness of Internet filters." He said he was not able to say which of the companies had responded to the subpoenas and to what extent they had complied.

The A.C.L.U. also subpoenaed many of the same companies, said Aden J. Fine, a lawyer for the organization. "We have asked for information that is relevant to the lawsuit, such as information to show that filters are effective," he said. Mr. Fine declined to say how many companies were subpoenaed and what questions they were asked.

While the A.C.L.U. had objected to subpoenas of individual search data as an invasion of users' privacy, Mr. Fine said it did not see similar concerns for requests for data from the Internet and software providers.

The Justice Department subpoenas did not, in fact, ask for information that could be attributed to any individual user. Rather, it asked for detailed quantitative and technical descriptions of the Internet filters that were offered to customers, how they worked and how many people used them. The department also asked for market research information on how many people wanted filters and how satisfied they were.

According to Mr. Fine, the Internet and software companies largely complied with both sets of subpoenas. According to a letter provided to InformationWeek, Verizon initially raised objections and requested clarifications on issues mainly related to Justice Department requests for contracts and other trade secrets.

David Fish, a spokesman for Verizon, said that the company provided the information after reaching an agreement with the Justice Department on who would have access to it.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Is it just me, or do other readers agree there is a _huge_ amount -- more than even a year or two ago -- of pornography on the net. Much, much more than there was even two or three years ago. If the amount and nature of the spam we receive is any indication, there is _much more_ p*rn around also. One thing I find quite interesting about this case is that (as with email spam in general) filtering just does not work, is quite ineffectual, even though some insist on using it to 'protect children' as well. PAT]

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Saul Hansell
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