FILE PHOTO: Google extends work-from-home order to summer 2021
FILE PHOTO: A Google sign is shown at one of the company’s office complexes in Irvine, California, U.S., July 27, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake

December 2, 2020

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The federal judge hearing the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against Alphabet’s Google urged the government’s lawyers to redraft a proposed protective order to remove potential barriers that could prevent the search and advertising giant from effectively defending itself.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta objected in particular to what he said was a too-broad definition of highly confidential information that would be available only to Google’s outside counsel without special permission.

Arguing for Google, John Schmidtlein said he opposed the government’s proposals.

“My experience is that they are going to designate all or nearly all of the information that they produce as highly confidential,” he said in a pre-trial hearing by telephone. “That’s what’s going to happen.”

In a filing, the government had defined highly confidential information as “any confidential information that the parties or any third parties reasonably believe to be so competitively or commercially sensitive that it is entitled to extraordinary protections that a lesser designation cannot provide.”

Judge Mehta asked for the definition to be narrowed to something that went to the essence of the business. “Could we agree to some definition that could capture that very narrow category of information?” he asked.

Judge Mehta asked the two sides to produce a revised protective order by Dec. 14 while companies, like Apple Inc or AT&T Inc, which produced the information, would have until Dec. 15 to respond.

The Justice Department, which sued the search and advertising giant in October, put at the core of its antitrust case the billions of dollars that Google paid to be the default search engine on Apple’s iPhones. Apple noted in its filing that sensitive data was used to write the complaint.

Judge Mehta also indicated that he planned to put in the order penalties for attorneys who violate the protective order.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Aurora Ellis)

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