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Justice Department Demands Data From 34 Internet Companies

The government insists it needs vast amounts of data from Internet search companies to prove that the 1998 Child Online Protection Act is necessary and constitutional, and its highly publicized subpoenas of America Online, Google, MSN, and Yahoo are only part of that effort. It turns out that the federal government's data gathering activity is broader and more extensive than previously reported: The U.S. Department of Justice has demanded information from at least 34 Internet service providers, Internet search companies, and security software firms.

For businesses, the subpoenas raise the issue of whether the feds should be able to use their data so it can prove a case in court, regardless of how much work and money it takes to comply with the requests.

The Justice Department disclosed last week it has issued subpoenas to companies that include AT&T, Comcast Cable, Cox Communications, EarthLink, LookSmart, SBC Communications (before the merger with AT&T), Symantec, and Verizon, according to copies of subpoenas InformationWeek obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. A Justice spokesman wouldn't say which companies cooperated with the government or fought the requests, nor would he discuss whether the information submitted was useful.

Data Demands
  The Justice
Department asked Internet companies for:
Search keywords and URLs
to better understand
how people search for porn
Blacklist details
to find out how search
and filtering companies determine which sites should be blocked
on the effectiveness of content
Business plans
to see ad campaigns and
marketing related to content filtering

The act imposes a $50,000 fine and up to six months in jail on those who publish material "harmful to children" online. The act has been challenged in court as unconstitutional, and the Justice Department is trying to support it by proving that Internet filtering software doesn't protect children from Internet porn. The bulk of the subpoenas were directed at ISPs and makers of Internet content-filtering software.

Some companies that got subpoenas did object, although it appears none fought the government in court like Google. In an E-mail sent to the Justice Department last July, Fernando Laguarda, an attorney for Cablevision Systems, called the government's request "overly broad, vague, ambitious, and unduly burdensome."

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