A Shameless Political Hack Grows in Nassau, or How Not to Write a Brief, Kids
On the 4th of May, Nassau County Legislator Jeffery Toback proved that nothing--not even flagrant misuse of judicial resources or his own self-respect--would get in the way of protecting his constituents from child pornography. Oh, wait a second, I'm sorry: make that Child Pornography.
The two are not the same thing.
This shining example of legislative acumen, who has now been honored as Dork of the Month by one blogger, and doubtless even more appropriate names by others, decided that he would file a lawsuit against Google because the company profits from child pornography. Oh, I'm sorry, I got that wrong again. Google profits from Child Pornography.
The complaint--sixteen pages suitable for future scrap paper or maybe as a condign example of how to mask a political diatribe as a legal argument--is available online thanks to Eric Goldman of Marquette University. News reports have included such headlines as "Google Sued Over Kiddie Porn." Yet if we look at the brief, it's interesting to note that Mr. Toback really gets in a tizzy over Child Pornography:
...Defendant continues to put its economic gains ahead fo the interests and well-being of America's children and their care givers who are being bombarded with child pornography and other repulsive material that is illegal to distribute to children (collectively, "Child Pornography").
and then a bit later,
Simply put, Defendant is the largest and most efficient facilitator and distributor of Child Pornography in the world. Defendant has the technological and operational resources to curtail, if not eradicate, Child Pornography. However, Defendant has no desire to do so not because it is a defender of "free speech" and "privacy rights" on the Internet but, rather, because Child Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry that has become an obscenely profitable and integral part of the Defendant's business model.
Ignore the fact that the plaintiff has gotten to Page Three of his complaint without leaving full-on campaign stump-speech mode. Note the sleight of hand: the accusation isn't that Google trades in child pornography as you or I would know it, but Child Pornography, defined as "repulsive material" that would be illegal to distribute to children. That could conceivable include everything more erotically-involved than Maxim. In other words, the "multi-billion dollar" industry that is an "integral part" of Google's business model is legitimate porn that might fall into the hands of children, which is to say, virtually all of it.
Child Pornography, it seems, does not imply merely child pornography.
Of course, it's a bit difficult to tell what Mr. Toback is actually talking about. Later in his brief, he states:
The subject matter of this lawsuit--Child Pornography--has been ruled illegal and banned by the federal government and all fifty states by statute. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has long ago ruled that the Constitution does not protect an individual's revolting desire to view children engaged in sex acts, nor does the Bill of Rights provide any insulation for any other form of Child Pornography.
So maybe he does mean mere child pornography, and his complaint-writers have a capitalization fetish. But then how does one square that with his other claim:
Defendant is knowingly generating billions of dollars from the pornography trade and Child Pornography profiteers, in intentional and reckless disregard of its legal duties and the well-being of our nation's children.
According to Google's most recent 10-K, its total revenues were $6.1 billion last year. If the company is making "billions" off of Child Pornography profiteers, then fully one-third of the value of its AdWords would seem to be bought by kiddie-porn operators. That's a pretty ballsy statement. Indeed, I'd be impressed to find that one-third of all AdWords revenues come from pornography.
I don't know how easy it is to find child-pornography through Google, and frankly I don't fancy finding out. (I suspect Columbia records all my search engine requests, for one thing.) But I did try to find the one particular ad mentioned in the plaintiff's brief, which reads "Free trailers! www.seventeen____.com." Toback calls this an "obscene and illegal" website, but the only thing I found through Google that approached that address is . . . well, distasteful, but states that despite the name of the site, all "actors" were 18 at time of filming.
Suspicious advertisements can appear, especially when advertisers use dynamic keyword insertion. (Note, however, that in the advertisement mentioned in the linked post, the ad wasn't actually for child pornography but for singles-only vacations: the ad just looked dodgy because it had inserted dodgy search terms.)
Of course, I'm just being unreasonable and horribly unfair. According to Mr. Toback's complaint:
. . . [N]o reasonable or fair-minded person can defend Defendant's policies and practices of facilitating, aiding and abetting pornographers in distributing Child Pornography.
Guess Google must be hoping for an unfair and unreasonable judge, as well?
In any event, the biggest falsehood in the complaint is this:
. . . [T]his action is brought by concerned community members . . .
No. It's brought by a local government official striving for publicity. I hope this kind of mockery is just what he was looking for.