Report leak: Probe to continue, Delhi High Court raps Google for writing to CCI chief

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September 25, 2021 4:15 AM

"There are accusations against a government body and there is not a word (in Google's affidavit) showing when and how it was done... They are trying to frustrate the proceedings. If they are aggrieved, they should file a suit against (the media)," the law officer said.

The court also observed that if a report is to be kept confidential as per law, it should be kept so, observing that if at all there is a leak of confidential information then it should be probed.The court also observed that if a report is to be kept confidential as per law, it should be kept so, observing that if at all there is a leak of confidential information then it should be probed.

The Delhi High Court on Friday refused to stay the ongoing probe by the Competition Commission of India into Google’s Android smartphone agreements. It also disapproved the move by the company’s senior executive based in California, writing to the CCI chairman warning of legal action over the alleged leak leak of confidential information related to the ongoing probe.

“Your client had no business writing to the adjudicating authority. If your client wanted to inform, it could have written to the Registrar… Advise your client. Just because he is there (in California)… he should know that if you want to function in a country, he has to know the law,” Justice Rekha Palli told senior counsel AM Singhvi, appearing for Google, during the hearing.

However, Google maintained that it hadn’t committed any legal violation and only wanted to prevent any further unlawful disclosures of confidential findings.

Justice Palli also said that it will hear Google’s petition seeking to restrain CCI from “further leaking” its confidential interim fact-finding report to the media on Monday. “How can we pass orders without looking at the director general ‘s report,” the bench said.

While the CCI order of September 8 was not on record and was given to the court in a sealed cover during the hearing, the judge said she would like to go through the DG’s (investigation) report into the alleged unfair trade practices on behalf of Google and also look at the confidentiality claims made by the company.

The court’s reprimand came pursuant to additional solicitor general N Venkataraman apprising the HC that a senior officer from Google’s California office had written a “threatening letter” to CCI chairman, who is also the adjudicating authority in the case. Quoting from the letter, Venkataraman said that the letter warned that Google will initiate legal actions against “those who may have facilitated the unlawful release of the DG report”.

Stating that this leakage should not continue even for a minute, Singhvi alleged that information was being passed on to media houses by the CCI itself as the confidential report prepared by CCI’s DG is in exclusive possession of the statutory body. “Where else could it get leaked from even when Google also doesn’t have a copy… CCI must be restrained from any leak. It can’t be leaking information like a sieve to news portals while denying it to us” he said.

“There are accusations against a government body and there is not a word (in Google’s affidavit) showing when and how it was done… They are trying to frustrate the proceedings. If they are aggrieved, they should file a suit against (the media),” the law officer said.

The court also observed that if a report is to be kept confidential as per law, it should be kept so, observing that if at all there is a leak of confidential information then it should be probed.

However, the CCI contended that it was aware of the legal position on confidentiality. The commission has neither leaked nor intends to leak any confidential information of Google, Venkataraman said, urging the the court to dismiss the case as it “will send a completely wrong signal”.

While opposing Google’s petition, Venkataraman submitted that Google’s “presumption” against it was wholly misplaced and the company wants to “frustrate the proceedings” as it had been prima facie found guilty. “No order can be passed in the absence of any proof that we have leaked it… there is nothing to show that we have leaked it. What is the confidentiality in this. They are making this trend on the statutory body. What are the newspapers saying that the CCI is investigating. What else is being revealed,” the ASG asked, while arguing that “if they are so aggrieved, they should make these newspapers parties to the case. Let them respond.”

Google in its petition on Thursday said that the “unlawful disclosure” of the DG’s report is a breach of confidence which impairs its ability to defend itself and harms its reputation and its partners. A Google spokesperson said the company was deeply concerned that the report was leaked to the media “while in the CCI’s custody”.

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