Computer industry groups join Google in asking court to bar inquiry by Miss. attorney general

MarketsAssociated Press

Computer industry groups are joining Google's effort to block an investigation by Mississippi's attorney general.

Industry groups filed court papers Friday saying federal law should block Attorney General Jim Hood from even trying to investigate Google. They say a subpoena that Hood sent Google in October is mainly aimed at actions by others, not Google. They also say the 1996 Communications Decency Act blocks Google from being held accountable for what third parties say.

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Hood has been pushing Google since 2013 to prevent use of the company's search engine to find illegal drugs and pirated music, video games and movies.

"Simply put, requiring online service providers either to respond to subpoenas directed primarily at third-party conduct — or to engage in protracted and expensive litigation to challenge their propriety — could result in extraordinary costs for those providers," states a brief sponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Center for Democracy & Technology, Public Knowledge, Open Technology Institute and R Street Institute.

Another group of computer industry groups including Computer & Communications Industry Association, Consumer Electronics Association and Engine filed a parallel brief, calling Hood's inquiry "unprecedented."

"No public official should have discretion to filter the Internet," the second set of groups wrote. "Where the public official is one of 50 state attorneys general, the danger to free speech and to innovation is even more profound."

That second set of groups, in a news release, alleged that Hood was acting as a part of a "covertly orchestrated and financed campaign" by the movie industry, trying to achieve enhanced piracy protection through legal action that they've been unable to get through Congress.

Hood, though, says he's investigating actions taken by Google itself, and says the Mountain View, California, company could be liable under Mississippi consumer protection laws. Hood says Google has jumped the gun on its objections because he doesn't know what his inquiry will find.

The Democratic attorney general wants the lawsuit dismissed, saying state law allows him to investigate regardless of what federal law dictates. He also says there is no threat to free speech.

Google sued Hood in December, asking a judge to prevent him from pursuing criminal charges or suing the company after the attorney general subpoenaed information about some of Google's operations. However, Hood agreed not to pursue that information until March 6.

A hearing in the case is set for Feb. 13.

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