Federal prosecutors in Brazil have threatened to close down Google’s operations in the country, signalling an escalation of the latest dispute to pit the workings of a national legal system against the operations of the US global internet giants.

The country’s Public Attorney’s Office filed a lawsuit against the internet search company demanding information about some of the users of its Orkut social networking site. The information is needed to crack down on child pornographers and others who have used the site for illegal activities, according to prosecutors.

Google disputed claims that it had not provided information to the Brazilian authorities, but added that it would only co-operate if allowed to do so under the terms of US law.

Orkut has become the biggest social networking site in Latin America’s most populous country, which accounts for 65 per cent of its 20m registered users. According to prosecutors, Google’s Brazilian operations have refused to respond to more than 30 requests have been lodged for information to help track down users of the site.

The internet company said that, because data about Orkut members is stored on its servers in the US, it could only comply with requests that were made to its US operations. It added that it had already received, and responded to, 15 of such requests with information that could help to identify Orkut members, though it refused to say it if had provided all the details that were requested.

The dispute reflects Google’s policy of keeping data about its users in the US to protect it from disclosure to foreign governments.

“We have and will continue to provide Brazilian authorities with information on users who abuse the Orkut service, if their requests are reasonable and follow an appropriate legal process,” Google said.

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