Court rules in favor of FTC; says agency owns decision on Google enforcement

A federal court Friday ruled that it does not have jurisdiction to intervene in the Federal Trade Commission's enforcement decisions in regards to a consent order in place with Google.
Written by John Fontana, Contributor

A federal court Friday sided with the Federal Trade Commission ruling the agency's decisions regarding enforcement of a privacy settlement with Google is not subject to judicial review, but the court left open the question of the search giant's decision to change its privacy policies.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed earlier this month by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which asked the Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., to compel the FTC to enforce a consent order against Google.

EPIC was seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. The group said Google's plan to change its privacy policy in Mach violates the consent order. Google's policy changes are slated to go into effect Thursday.

The consent order is part of an October 2011 settlement in a privacy case between the FTC and Google where the search giant was found to have used deceptive privacy practices.

"We take our settlement orders very seriously, but only the FTC and not outside parties should be able to enforce them," said Claudia Ferrell, a spokeswoman for the FTC. "We are pleased that the Court has rejected EPIC's unwarranted attempt to interrupt the FTC's careful consideration of the announced changes in Google's privacy policies."

Since the lawsuit was filed, Google has been saying EPIC is "wrong on the facts and the law." The search giant's only comment Friday was a repeat of its statement that the changes make its privacy policy easier to understand and are a benefit to end users.

EPIC's executive director Marc Rotenberg said the research group plans to appeal the decision and ask a federal appeals court to rule "that courts can require federal agencies to enforce final orders."

Rotenberg said Judge Amy Berman Jackson, however, left open questions. He quoted her saying, "EPIC has advanced serious concerns that may be legitimate." He also said Jackson said "the Court has not reached the question of whether the new policies would violate the consent order or if they would be contrary to any other legal requirements."

And Rotenberg quoted Jackson saying, "the FTC, which has advised the Court that the matter is under review, may ultimately decide to institute an enforcement action."

Google created waves Jan. 24 when it announced it was consolidating it myriad of privacy policies into a single one and would look at users as one entity across all its service. The announcement touched off a privacy debate from Washington to the European Union and nearly everywhere in-between.

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