Forty Attorneys General and Broad Internet Safety Alliance Fight Google’s Attempt to Avoid Investigation of Alleged Illegal Behavior
Last December, we detailed how Google sought to exploit last year’s cyberattack against Sony for its own self-interested purposes:
Instead of joining the rest of the responsible online community in addressing the important issues of cybersecurity and the way in which the Internet is increasingly exploited to invade privacy, commit theft, sabotage and even terrorize, Google seeks to malign a very serious investigation into its own questionable Internet conduct. Specifically, it remains under scrutiny by federal and state authorities for years of alleged anticompetitive conduct and invasion of privacy, as well as for potentially facilitating theft, fraud, illicit sale of drugs and even human trafficking. The allegations are obviously serious, and Google is even more obviously worried enough about them to exploit the Sony cyberattack for its benefit.”
Dating back to 2011, Google admitted to illegally facilitating and profiting from advertising by Canadian pharmacies unauthorized to sell to U.S. consumers. The charges were so grave that Google agreed to pay a half-billion dollar settlement. State-level investigations, however, continued. But instead of cooperating with authorities and remedying its wrongdoing, Google utilized documents exposed by the North Korean cyberattack against Sony to ask a federal court to halt further investigation into possible violation of state consumer protection laws. Specifically, Google sought injunction prohibiting Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood from looking into allegations that it advertised and provided access to such illegal products and services as false government IDs and even child prostitution. A federal judge unreasonably accepted Google’s petition based upon a strained reading of a federal statute, the Communications Decency Act.
The baselessness of that injunction is vividly illustrated by the fact that some forty state attorneys general – a bipartisan alliance of 23 Republicans and 17 Democrats – petitioned the court this week to vacate the injunction. Sustaining the ill-advised injunction, they emphasized, “would provide a roadmap for any potential wrongdoer subject to a legitimate state law enforcement investigation to attempt to thwart such an inquiry.”
Former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, who has worked alongside CFIF in the past, captured the essence of the matter in a separate brief on behalf of the Digital Citizens Alliance:
The preliminary injunction entered below is the wrong remedy in the wrong court at the wrong time. Google will enjoy ample opportunities to protect its rights if the Attorney General’s investigation is allowed to progress. But if that investigation is halted before it begins in earnest, there will be no later opportunity to vindicate the public interest in seeing criminal misconduct investigated and stopped. Because Google has no federal right to block a state investigation into its suspected wrongdoing, and because in any case the other relevant factors weigh unmistakably against a preliminary injunction, the decision below cannot stand.”
Mr. Clement stands among the top legal minds in America, and he hits the bullseye on this count. When such an overwhelming bipartisan group of attorneys general joins a broad alliance of Internet safety groups, the balance of justice on this question is even more clear.