Google files lawsuit against Mississippi attorney general to block subpoena

The search giant continues its campaign against Mississippi's Jim Hood. Google says his request for company information is an "unjustified attack" that violates federal law.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
3 min read

In response to Google's lawsuit, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said he hopes the two can reach a "peaceful resolution." Getty Images

Google on Friday filed a lawsuit trying to block a probe by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, accusing him of violating federal law in a campaign against the search giant.

The lawsuit, filed in Mississippi district court, seeks to stop a 79-page subpoena by Hood's office. In its suit, Google said Hood was attempting to hold it accountable for information like search results, though he specifically asked about advertisers that have tried to promote the sale of illegal drugs on Google's sites. Hood, Google says, is violating its rights under the First and Fourth Amendments.

"The Attorney General's effort to force Google to severely limit third-party information accessible through Google's services violates federal law in several ways," the lawsuit reads.

In response, Hood said in a statement that he hopes the two sides can come to a "peaceful resolution." "I will reach out to legal counsel Google's board of directors to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the issues affecting consumers that we attorneys general have pointed out in a series of eight letters to Google," he said.

The suit illustrates the broad scuffle between Internet companies, traditional industries and government as each side tries to operate within an increasingly digital landscape. Everyone from broadband companies to musicians have argued over how the Internet should be accessed, used and regulated.

The lawsuit comes a day after Google General Counsel Kent Walker said in a blog post that Hollywood is trying to " censor the Internet." The movie industry was a major proponent of two passionately debated bills -- the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) -- that attempted to target websites illegally displaying copyrighted content. Google's blog post was also partly a response to a story published by The Verge detailing a reported effort led by the MPAA to block websites alleged to publish copyrighted material.

The lawsuit cites leaked emails from a high-profile hack against Sony Pictures, which were the source of The Verge's story. The emails suggest Hood worked with the Motion Picture Association of America, which has long been an adversary of Google over piracy issues, in carrying out his campaign against illicit drugs.

To support its claim against Hood, Google said a letter sent by Hood accusing it of numerous misdeeds was drafted by the MPAA's longtime law firm, indicating nefarious collusion. In response, Hood said he worked with the MPAA but disagreed with Google's assertions.

The MPAA declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit against Hood but pointed to an earlier statement calling Google's attempt to position itself as a defender of free speech "shameful."

Google in a statement called Hood's subpoena, issued in late October, an "unjustified attack."

"We regret having to take this matter to court, and we are doing so only after years of efforts to explain both the merits of our position and the extensive steps we've taken on our platforms," the company said.

Google isn't the only organization that believes Hood is overreaching. Public Knowledge, a Washington-DC-based consumer rights group, said Hood could be attempting to use the subpoena process to stifle Google. "Recent revelations about the source of those investigations could suggest that the subpoena is being used not merely as an investigative tool, but as a weapon in itself," Sherwin Siy, the group's vice president of legal affairs, said in a statement.

In the lawsuit, Google said it is already blocking pharmacies that illegally sell drugs without prescriptions. The search giant said that though some "rogue" pharmacy sites advertised with Google years ago, "no Internet company does more to address this issue today." Google said in the lawsuit it has blocked more than 7.1 million ads that violate its pharmacy policies and blocked or removed more than 200,000 videos for similar violations.