The state attorney general’s pursuit of copyright violators and illegal prescription drug vendors constitutes a dangerously expansive attempt to police the online speech of millions of Internet users, according to the ACLU.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, California — On Monday, the ACLU asked an attorney general to “back off” and stop invading the privacy of Internet users to infringe on free speech or serve the agenda of big corporations and their lawyers.
In December, Google sued Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, “alleging that his efforts to hold the search engine accountable for objectionable content online, such as illegal prescription drugs and pirated movies, violate federal law and are unconstitutional under the First and Fourth Amendments,” according to Dana Liebelson, writing last year for the Huffington Post.
But according to the suit and emails obtained by HuffPost, Hood hasn’t just been overzealous in his pursuit of allegedly objectionable content online; he actively collaborates with representatives of corporate industry to target the tech giant:
“In one example of the cooperation, Hood sent a letter to Google in November 2013, accusing the tech company of wrongdoing. The text of the letter was largely penned by Jenner & Block, a law firm retained by MPAA, according to The New York Times.
And according to emails obtained by HuffPost, Hood called an MPAA lobbyist to seek out examples of pirated movies that he could show during a live search demonstration at a meeting with Google. “
The attorney general, in response, claims his behavior is business as usual:
“Hood has maintained that there is nothing improper about getting assistance from MPAA to fight crime. He told HuffPost earlier this week that he’s simply trying to ensure that Google is a good corporate citizen, and noted that Google paid $500 million in 2011 to settle claims that the tech company allowed ads for illegal prescription drugs.”
Hood’s pursuit of copyright violators and illegal prescription drug vendors constitutes a dangerously expansive attempt to police the online speech of millions of Internet users, according to the ACLU. The ACLU’s Samia Hossain and Esha Bhandari wrote Monday:
“The state is asking for all this information for anyone speaking about something ‘objectionable,’ ‘offensive,’ or ‘tangentially’ related to something ‘dangerous,’which it defines as anything that could ‘lead to physical harm or injury.’ … The attorney general claims that he needs information about all of this speech to investigate Google for state consumer protection violations, even though the subpoena covers such things as copyright matters and doesn’t limit itself to content involving Mississippi residents.
Earlier this year, a District Court judge froze Mississippi’s investigation into Google. The state appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, where we filed a brief today against the attorney general’s attempt to violate the First Amendment rights of the millions of people who use the Internet.”
Hossain and Bhandari say this is part of a dangerous trend in law enforcement, warning that “needless to say, ‘objectionable,’ ‘offensive,’ or ‘tangentially’ related to something ‘dangerous,’ are terms that are so broad that they could encompass a huge swathe of content on the Internet.”