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This week in Google

Federal prosecutors defending a Net porn law try to force Google to hand over millions of search records.

Federal prosecutors defending a controversial Internet pornography law are trying to force Google to hand over millions of search records--a request that the search giant is rejecting.

The Bush administration asked a federal judge to force Google to comply with a subpoena for the information, which would reveal the search terms of a broad swath of the search engine's visitors. 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 Bush administration's request is part of its attempts to defend the 1998 Child Online Protection Act, which is being challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU says Web sites cannot realistically comply with COPA and that the law violates the right to freedom of speech mandated by the First Amendment.

An attorney for the ACLU said Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL received identical subpoenas and chose to comply with them rather than fight the request in court.

Google said in a statement sent to CNET News.com that it will resist the request "vigorously."

CNET News.com readers were divided on Google's actions.

"You'll let Google read your email to send you advertisements but the government can't request a random non-identifying sample of data to evaluate the effectiveness of its laws?" wrote David Arbogast in News.com's TalkBack Forum.

Other readers championed Google for its actions.

"Slowly we sit here while parents leave parenting to the government and the government seems to think it knows best what is good for me," Tom Eldred wrote. "Here's to Google for resisting."

On one level, the situation involves a straightforward question of whether the department's demands are too onerous and therefore not permitted under federal law. On another, the dispute raises novel questions about search engines' privacy protections and the relationship that four tech giants have with the federal government.

What does it all mean, and what happens next? CNET News.com prepared an FAQ to address some of your questions.

Meanwhile, U.S. senators on Thursday blasted what they called an "explosion" in Internet pornography and threatened to enact new laws aimed at targeting sexually explicit Web sites.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, lashed out at an adult-entertainment industry representative, saying that the industry needs to take swift moves to devise a ratings system and to clearly mark all its material as "adult-only."

A lawyer representing companies offering "lawful, adult-oriented entertainment" agreed.

"I think any adult producer would agree," said Paul Cambria, counsel to the Adult Freedom Foundation. It would just be a matter of organizing the industry, he added.

"My advice is you tell your clients they better do it soon, because we'll mandate it if they don't," Stevens said.