As part of its effort to defend the Child Online Protection Act of 1998, the U.S. Justice Department introduced the findings of a government-commissioned study, conducted by Berkeley statistician Philip Stark, which found that about one percent of the Web sites indexed by Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft’s Internet search engines are sexually explicit.
The Child Online Protection Act has yet to be enforced, and was blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004, which found that unduly inhibited free speech rights of adults on the Internet. In its ruling, the court said filtering technology may be a more practical solution to protecting children from obscene and sexually explicit material on the Internet than any legislative solution. COPA was challenged by the ACLU on behalf of a wide range of online publishers.
As part of its case to re-instate COPA, the Justice Department issued subpoenas for search engine queries and indexing data from Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google, ostensibly to determine what volume of material indexed by major search engines was sexually explicit, and how often those search facilities were used to locate sexually explicit material. (Only Google fought the subpoenas, significantly reducing the amount of information it turned over to the DOJ.)
The government study found that under the strictest filter tested, AOL’s “Mature Teen” filter, some 91 percent of the sexually explicit Web sites in indexes obtained from Google and MSN were blocked. Less restrictive filters blocked at least 40 percent of the sexually explicit sites.
Stark also found that while many of the most popular sexually-explicit sites in the Google and MSN indexes are in the U.S., about half the sexually explicit sites are hosted outside the U.S., which in many cases could put them beyond the reach of U.S. legislation.
Closing arguments in the trial are expected to begin next week.
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