Google attorneys will face the US Department of Justice (DOJ) at a February 27 hearing over the matter of providing the government with information about searches for pornography on the company's site.

US District Court Judge James Ware on Thursday set the hearing date in the case, which will be heard in the US District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose. US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales filed a motion to force Google to comply with a subpoena for search records. The DOJ claims that it needs the records to bolster its argument that a federal law is more effective than filtering software when it comes to restricting access by children under the age of 18 to pornographic content on the Internet.

Google has refused to provide the records, which the government reckons it needs to defend itself against a suit against it brought in 1998 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). This challenged the Child Online Protection Act, which ACLU says violates the US Constitution's First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

A Pennsylvania district court granted a motion for a preliminary injunction, which was confirmed in 2000 by an appeals court. However, the case then went to the Supreme Court, which rejected the ruling and sent it back to appeal. The appeals court again affirmed the preliminary injunction. After another Supreme Court review, the case was sent back for trial, leading the DOJ to subpoena Google, AOL, MSN and Yahoo for search records. All of the other companies complied, except Google.

Privacy advocates and search-engine users are among those watching the case with keen interest.