With representatives of the electronics industry saying Mississippi's attempt to investigate Google should be blocked by federal law, 11 other state attorneys general and other groups are taking the opposite position.
They're weighing in on the side of Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, saying he has the power to examine Google's behavior, and should be allowed to collect evidence from the Internet giant before a court steps in.
Google is trying to block a subpoena that Hood issued, with the Mountain View, California, company claiming it's immune from much or all of Hood's inquiries under a 1996 federal law, the Communications Decency Act. That law says Internet companies can't be held liable for what third parties say.
A Democrat, Hood says he's investigating actions taken by Google itself, and says the company could be liable under Mississippi law. In particular, Hood is looking into whether Google was facilitating illegal activity through its auto complete service, which automatically fills in words for the user, such as "how to buy oxydodone" and whether the search engine was purposefully selling related ads against YouTube videos that allegedly promoted illegal behavior.
The sides are scheduled to argue their positions Friday in Jackson before U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate.
Hood is being supported by attorneys general from Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. In a brief written by the Kentucky attorney general's office, those officials say that if Google wins, it will hurt all states' ability to investigate.
"It also could jeopardize each and every attorney general's ability to investigate and enforce violations of his or her state's consumer protection laws by Google or any other company hosting internet content, thereby jeopardizing each and every attorney general's ability to protect the public from false, misleading and deceptive business practices by such companies," the brief states.
Another brief, filed by the Digital Citizens Alliance and other groups opposed to child indecency and illegal drug sales, says that Google's previous $500 million settlement with the federal government in 2011 should put to rest any claim that Google can't be investigated again over similar issues. There, Google settled claims over ads sold to pharmacies that were illegally shipping drugs into the United States.
"Google's previous settlement with the Department of Justice should eliminate any serious argument that Google's business model makes it immune from legitimate investigation," the groups said. "The Justice Department could not have reached that half a billion dollar settlement if the courts had enjoined the investigation in its infancy out of premature concerns that the investigation would inevitably run afoul of federal law and the Constitution."
Hood has argued that the time to claim immunity would be after his investigation turns up some facts. That point is echoed by a brief filed by the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition.
"It is only after the facts are gathered, and there is an evidentiary record — not before — that a proper determination can be made as to whether certain conduct is actionable, or whether it may be protected by the Communications Decency Act or other laws," the coalition wrote.
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