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5th Circ. Vacates Injunction That Halted Google Child Porn Inquiry

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on April 14, 2016 7:00 AM

The free speech interests of Internet users and countervailing states' interests will clash in court, according to the Fifth Circuit. The court overturned a lower district court injunction that stopped Mississippi's AG from investigating whether Google's search platform aided illicit Internet traffic including drugs and child porn.

Although this is not a case the circuit reviewed on the merits, it is at least the second case we've written about that deals with issues of user-freedoms and the public good.

Mississippi's Attorney General

Trouble first began when Mississippi's Attorney General Jim Hood started investigating Google in 2012 under the belief that the Internet giant's search engine platform might be be liable under state law for facilitating "dangerous and unlawful activity," according to court documents.

Hood sought Google's information about the company's policies concerning Internet searches for such lurid topics such as child pornography, illegal drug sales and copyright violations. Hood argued that reasonable grounds existed to believe that Google had violated the state's Consumer Protection Act. Google sought an injunction to stop that subpoena. Of course, the EFF got in on the game as well. It argued in its amicus brief that the Communications Decency Act "precludes a state official from saddling any Internet service provider with burdensome and costly discovery based primarily on the provider's refusal to monitor, take down, or block disfavored third-party content."

They were successful when the lower court found that such an injunction would amount to a chilling of online free speech.

Not on the Merits

The Fifth Circuit refused to reach the merits of the subpoena and focused strictly on the issuance of the injunction itself. According to the circuit court, the district court erred in granting injunctive relief because the subpoena per se, nor the possibility of future enforcement created an imminent threat of irreparable injury -- one of the necessary elements of an injunction.

With the case remanded, the district court will weigh the balancing of the interests and the Fifth Circuit can set the standards to Google's search engine powers.

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