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Judge postpones Google subpoena hearing

Search giant's attempt to fend off government's request for millions of search terms will move to a federal court March 13.

Google's attempt to fend off the government's request for millions of search terms will move to a federal court in San Jose, Calif., on March 13.

U.S. District Judge James Ware on Thursday delayed the hearing, originally scheduled for Feb. 27, for an extra two weeks without giving an explanation. The outcome will determine whether the U.S. Justice Department will prevail in its fight to force Google to help it defend an anti-pornography law in a trial in Philadelphia this fall.

Gonzales v. Google: the docs

Court documents reveal that the Justice Department has been pressuring Google for excerpts from its search logs for half a year. Prosecutors hope to use the excerpts to show that filtering software can't protect children online.

Government subpoena and Google's objection (PDF)

Motion to require Google to comply (PDF)

Declaration of Philip Stark, government statistics expert (PDF)

Although the Justice Department also demanded that Yahoo, Microsoft and America Online hand over similar records, Google was the only recipient that chose to fight the subpoena in court. After the spat became public last week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said:" This is important for the Department of Justice and we will pursue this matter."

The government's request has raised eyebrows among privacy advocates and members of Congress, some of whom fear it could open the door to future fishing expeditions. Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said he would introduce legislation to curb records retained by Web sites, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, has asked Gonzales for details.

Ware also said that Google's response to the Justice Department is now due Feb. 17, and the government's reply is due Feb. 24. Other organizations such as nonprofit groups, individuals and companies that have permission to file friend-of-the-court briefs can do so until Feb. 24.

Ware is no stranger to technology cases. He heard legal spat between RealNetworks and Microsoft in 2004, the Sex.com case in 2001, and a spam lawsuit in 1998.

Prosecutors are requesting a "random sampling" of 1 million Internet addresses accessible through Google's popular search engine and a random sampling of 1 million search queries submitted to Google over a one-week period.

The request is part of the Justice Department's attempt to defend the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act. The law orders commercial Web sites to shield minors from materials that may be "harmful" to them--or face prison time--a requirement that the American Civil Liberties Union claims violates free expression rights.