TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: More Subpoenas in Suit Over Obscenity Law

More Subpoenas in Suit Over Obscenity Law

Saul Hansell (
Sat, 1 Apr 2006 19:13:50 -0600


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

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

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

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_ porn 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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