The Justice Department is demanding internal files from dozens of Internet service providers and other technology firms as it seeks to defend a controversial Internet child protection law.
The subpoenas are similar to one given to Google Inc., which waged a partially successful battle over the government’s request for data on search engine requests and website domains.
InformationWeek magazine found subpoenas that indicate the government also demanded information from at least 34 other companies, including Internet service providers such as Comcast Corp. and EarthLink Inc., security software firms and other technology companies.
The subpoenas, which the magazine obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, show the Justice Department preparing for an October trial in Philadelphia over the 1996 Child Online Protection Act.
It is not clear which companies are complying and to what extent.
“That money could be spent so much more wisely on giving software away to parents that are having these problems,” Dan Jude, president of Security Software Systems, said of the litigation costs.
The 12-person firm, which makes filtering software, spent more than 40 hours trying to comply with the subpoena.
The Sugar Grove, Ill.-based company refused to provide some information on proprietary grounds, fearing that it could make its way into the court file.
“If that information gets out in the public, we’ve just lost our competitive edge,” Jude said. The subpoena also sought information the company does not keep, such as on customer satisfaction, he said.
Department of Justice spokesman Charles Miller did not return a message seeking comment.
The subpoenas also went to AT&T; Inc., Cox Communications Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Symantec Corp.
The U.S. Supreme Court has twice said the law -- which would criminalize Internet material deemed “harmful to children” as defined by “contemporary community standards” -- is likely to violate 1st Amendment protections and has granted preliminary injunctions.
Critics say that definition is so broad it would stifle free speech and also note that pornographers and others could simply take their operations offshore.
Online publishers challenging the law argue that filters are a less restrictive way to protect children.