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The Google Defense: Can Search Terms Determine Obscenity?


A defendant in an obscenity trial hopes to introduce Google search data to show that community tastes go beyond apple pie and toward a more sexual appetite. Under the law, a jury or judge must decide if the alleged obscenity violates the vague benchmark of "community standards."

In the past, defendants have relied on the wide availability of sexual material in the community, to prove standards. The current defendant, pornographic website operator Clinton Raymond McCowen's, wants to go further, showing interest and consumption rather than availability. While local statistics from Pensacola, FL, show that residents search NASCAR, surfing, and Nintendo more than orgy, orgy competes with apple pie, and other wholesome American terms, reports the New York Times.

This unusual case reveals the futility of trying to carefully censor the Internet. Since 2000 the US federal government has initiated only 15 nonchild porn-related obscenity cases. Local prosecutors have similarly dropped the charges against Internet porn.

If a jury finds this porn-site operator guilty of obscenity, and then goes home and searches for porn, are they acting like a bunch of hypocrites? Should citizens be left to self-censor the Internet? Does it make you nervous to realize how much data Google keeps?

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