The US Department of Justice has accused Google of systematically trying to hide emails from the courts by CCing lawyers. This makes them ‘confidential emails’.
The complaint comes as part of an investigation that the Ministry of Justice is conducting into the competition. In that investigation, Google is suspected of holding a monopoly position in the market for search engines and advertisements. In doing so, the Ministry of Justice must sift through internal email traffic and documents to find out whether Google has made price agreements.
But the antitrust investigation is not going smoothly because many emails within Google are labelled ‘confidential’, according to the Justice Department, according to news site Axios. In the US, certain emails, for example, in which legal advice is requested, are covered by professional secrecy and can therefore not simply be made public in court.
The Justice Department now says that Google has “explicitly and repeatedly” told employees that business documents should be protected from publicity by CCing the company’s lawyers, even if their advice is not really asked. Moreover, those lawyers would often not even reply to the mail wire, proving to the Ministry of Justice that they know that they are not asked for real advice.
The emails in which the lawyers are attached pro forma may be used in court, but the Ministry of Justice must each time prove that it is not confidential information. According to the ministry, Google has been using the tactic for years to hide thousands of documents, including discussions about revenue sharing and distribution arrangements around Android apps. Justice is now asking the judge to force the company to release more documents.
Google responds in a statement that it has been working with the courts for years. “Like other American companies, we explain to our employees what legal privilege (confidentiality of legal advice) is and when they can ask for legal advice. We released four million documents to the Department of Justice in this case alone, many of which employees believe may have been confidential.”