A US judge says he is inclined to order Internet giant Google to turn over some data sought by the US government.
Judge James Ware told a hearing in California that he would weigh the government's need to gather data against the privacy of Google users.
The Justice Department wants Google to provide a week's worth of search records, saying it needs the data to help it better police cyberspace.
Google says complying with the request would compromise its business.
During the hearing in San Jose, the judge questioned whether an internet search should be treated as a private act.
"People who go searching on the world wide web are, essentially, exposing for the world that they want the information," he said.
He told the Justice Department it could expect to get at least some of the information sought.
However, he expressed reservations about requiring the company to divulge some of its most sensitive data - the actual requests that people enter into its popular search engine.
Head to head
The case has focused attention on the issue of personal information held by Internet companies.
The US government is seeking to defend the 1998 Child Online Protection Act, which has been blocked by the Supreme Court because of legal challenges over how it is enforced.
It wants the data from the search engines to prove how easy it is to stumble over porn on the net.
Google's refusal was based on three main arguments.
Firstly, Google says it does not want to do the government's work for it and secondly it says that it wants to protect its product.
Thirdly, Google wants to show users that the company is serious about protecting their privacy.
Cooperating with the government "is a slippery slope and it's a path we shouldn't go down", Google co-founder Sergey Brin told industry analysts earlier this month.