Hood’s actions against Google questionable

Published 12:29 am Sunday, January 18, 2015

Mississippi’s Attorney General Jim Hood apparently got the pants scared off of him a few weeks ago.

You see, multi-billion-dollar search giant Google sued Hood —the State of Mississippi’s top lawyer — last month.

Google’s lawsuit was aimed at asking a federal court to set aside a 79-page subpoena Hood filed seeking information from Google.

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Upon having the legal shoe put on the other foot, Hood called for a “time out” and sought to slow down the process. Both sides agreed to delay action until March.

Last week, however, Hood asked the federal court to simply throw out Google’s lawsuit on the grounds that Google is not immune to state laws under which Hood seeks information via subpoena.

From an outsider’s perspective, Hood’s reaction is a bit funny since Hood has used his position as the state’s top lawyer to take on Google for years. Hood quickly learned that it’s not much fun being on the receiving end of legal action.

Hood’s aim, he says, is to protect Mississippians from potentially using the search engine to commit crimes including the purchase of pirated software and movies, illicit drugs and more.

The question Hood seeks to answer is: Should being able to search for something that’s illegal to possess be against the law? And where is the search engine company’s responsibility to be the police in this case?

The debate becomes one of epic, Constitutional proportions in some sense and seems a pretty minor focus in another.

Constitutionally, the matter is complex. Where does one’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech end in this matter?

Is Google aiding criminals or simply a utility — no different than the phone company?

Those are big questions for sure.

On the minor side, what Hood is arguing to stop — human vices — far predates Google or even the early vestiges of the Internet.

Mississippians have been capable of buying illegal drugs, child pornography and counterfeit Hollywood movies for decades. Years ago, those criminals used fairly low-tech means — the U.S. Postal Service and later the telephone.

If the matter were genuinely just about pornography or even illicit drugs it might be easier to see how Hood should be involved, but the matter seems more common place and more focused on money.

Hood’s office has sued a number of large firms over the past several years, bringing hundreds of millions of dollars in settlement money into state coffers and simultaneously providing the private trial lawyers hired to argue the cases tens of millions of dollars in attorney fees, too.

Published reports have linked Hood to a non-profit group supported by several major Hollywood film studios. Hood’s friend and political colleague, former Attorney General Mike Moore, was hired by the non-profit, Digital Citizens Alliance.

Moore told the New York Times that initially he was helping Hood in the battle to stop illegal online drug sales and was later hired by the Digital Citizens Alliance.

Hood and Moore have said their continued actions against Google are focused on what they view as the company’s wrongdoings, not any funding or political pressure the movie industry applied.

Unfortunately, their relationship with the film industry simply doesn’t smell good and in a large way taints what may have started out as a legitimate concern with good intentions.

Instead Hood’s crusade against Google looks and smells like an effort to simply squeeze the billion-dollar company to provide some settlement money. Beyond that, it would appear a private, third party group was influencing Hood — and a handful of other AGs across several states — to use their positions to battle the search giant for the greater good of the movie industry.

Politicians and attorneys often get the reputation for being a bit slimy and out for themselves. In this case, that looks to be correct for Hood, and it doesn’t take searching Google to see that.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.