Google Chrome Dragged Into Internet Censorship Fight

Google's lawsuit against Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood is a crucial case for the future of SOPA-like Internet filters in the U.S. This week Digital Citizens Alliance, Stop Child Predators and others voiced their support for the Attorney General, suggesting that Google Chrome should be censored as well.

chromeHelped by the MPAA, Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood launched a secret campaign to revive SOPA-like censorship efforts in the United States.

The MPAA and Hood want Internet services to bring website blocking and search engine filtering back to the table after the controversial law failed to pass.

The plan became public through various emails that were released in the Sony Pictures leaks and in a response Google said that it was “deeply concerned” about the developments.

To counter the looming threat Google filed a complaint against Hood last December, asking the court to quash a pending subpoena that addresses Google’s failure to take down or block access to illegal content, including pirate sites.

Recognizing the importance of this case, several interested parties have written to the court to share their concerns. There’s been support for both parties with some siding with Google and others backing Hood.

In a joint amicus curae brief (pdf) the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), Computer & Communications Association (CCIA) and
advocacy organization Engine warn that Hood’s efforts endanger free speech and innovation.

“No public official should have discretion to filter the Internet. Where the public official is one of fifty state attorneys general, the danger to free speech and to innovation is even more profound,” they write.

According to the tech groups it would be impossible for Internet services to screen and police the Internet for questionable content.

“Internet businesses rely not only on the ability to communicate freely with their consumers, but also on the ability to give the public ways to communicate with each other. This communication, at the speed of the Internet, is impossible to pre-screen.”

Not everyone agrees with this position though. On the other side of the argument we find outfits such as Stop Child Predators, Digital Citizens Alliance, Taylor Hooton Foundation and Ryan United.

In their brief they point out that Google’s services are used to facilitate criminal practices such as illegal drug sales and piracy. Blocking content may also be needed to protect children from other threats.

“Google’s YouTube service has been used by those seeking to sell steroids and other illegal drugs online,” they warn, adding that the video platform is also “routinely used to distribute other content that is harmful to minors, such as videos regarding ‘How to Buy Smokes Under-Age’, and ‘Best Fake ID Service Around’.

Going a step further, the groups also suggest that Google should filter content in its Chrome browser. The brief mentions that Google recently removed Pirate Bay apps from its Play Store, but failed to block the site in search results or Chrome.

“In December 2014, responding to the crackdown on leading filesharing website PirateBay, Google removed a file-sharing application from its mobile software store, but reports indicate that Google has continued to allow access to the same and similar sites through its search engine and Chrome browser,” they write.

The Attorney General should be allowed to thoroughly investigate these threats and do something about it, the groups add.

“It is simply not tenable to suggest that the top law enforcement officials of each state are powerless even to investigate whether search engines or other intermediaries such as Google are being used—knowingly or unknowingly—to facilitate the distribution of illegal content…”

In addition to the examples above, several other organizations submitted amicus briefs arguing why the subpoena should or shouldn’t be allowed under the First Amendment and Section 230 of the CDA, including the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition, EFF, the Center for Democracy & Technology and Public Knowledge.

Considering the stakes at hand, both sides will leave no resource untapped to defend their positions. In any event, this is certainly not the last time we’ll hear of the case.

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