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The pointlessness of the Google vs CCI case over a leaked report

Wrapped up in less than five days, the case failed to gather any steam as good journalists never reveal their sources.

Congratulating Google on its 23rd birthday, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) on September 27 agreed to Google’s requests to keep some information confidential during the course of its investigation in a bid to get the petition filed against it with the Delhi High Court dismissed. The whole case, which concluded from start to finish in less than five days, was a futile exercise.

Rewind: What is this case about?

On September 18, Times of India and Reuters cited a leaked interim fact-finding report submitted by the Director General’s office to the CCI to state that the antitrust watchdog found evidence of Google abusing the dominant position of its Android operating system in India. Google on September 23 filed a petition against CCI with the Delhi HC seeking redressal around this leak saying that “the breach of confidence impairs Google’s ability to defend itself and harms Google and its partners.” The CCI had initiated an investigation into Google in April 2019.

What is the outcome of the case?

CCI said that even though it stands by the legality of an earlier order in which it rejected Google’s appeal to reconsider the confidentiality issue, it has now agreed to accept Google’s confidentiality requests in order to expedite the proceedings. CCI also agreed to set up a panel to enquire into the allegations made by Google. Following this agreement, Google’s counsel said if the CCI is bound by its statement, its grievance stands addressed. The court then dismissed the petition without expressing any opinion on the claim made by Google that CCI is responsible for the said leaks. The court however said that if Google has any further grievance that the information was being leaked it can take legal recourse.

Good journalists never reveal their sources

The outcome of the case neither places any checks and balances for preventing leaking of confidential information nor prevents journalists from reporting on such information. Ultimately, there will be journalists who somehow get access to details on confidential information in possession with the CCI and unless they reveal their sources there is not going to be any evidence to point the source back to CCI.

“How are we responsible for whatever has been said in this court?” CCI’s counsel said during the hearing while asking Google to go after the media companies that reported the leaked information instead: An advice that Google did not take to heart.

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Google tried to plead to the court to make someone at CCI liable for leaks, but the court declined to do so. The court even took a strong exception to the letter written by a senior officer of Google to CCI warning its chairman of legal action over the alleged leak. “I don’t appreciate this… If he felt so strongly, he should have addressed the letter to the registrar (of CCI),” the judge reportedly said.

What did Google and CCI argue in court?

CCI: In a hearing on September 24, the CCI told the court that it did not leak any confidential information and the petition filed by Google was misplaced. “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),” Additional Solicitor General N Venkataraman, representing CCI, said.

Google: Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Google, called CCI a “habitual offender” and argued that the leaked report was only in possession with the director-general who further passes it on to CCI and no other person. “Give a dog a bad name in advance and then hang him by these selective leakages,” Singhvi reportedly said while urging the court to pass an order protecting Google from further prejudice.

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