The Justice Department’s decision to remove access to publicly posted trial documents in the case of US v. Google has sparked a dispute over how these files should be made available online. Reporter Leah Nylen from Bloomberg reported from the courtroom that Judge Amit Mehta would make a decision the next morning regarding future online access to exhibits.
More details of the exchange between the Justice Department and Google were reported by the Big Tech On Trial newsletter. The dispute apparently arose during a discussion about whether an exhibit could be submitted as evidence. Google’s attorneys pointed out that the Justice Department had been posting documents online, a fact that Judge Mehta claimed he was unaware of. The Verge had previously linked to the now-removed page in its trial coverage. Judge Mehta expressed that he is not necessarily opposed to the documents being posted and that the Justice Department offered to notify Google in advance of what it planned to post, potentially preventing future conflicts.
Google declined to provide an on-the-record comment on the dispute, and the Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Currently, the page that formerly hosted trial exhibits is offline, although a snapshot from last week is still accessible via the Internet Archive. It is worth noting that Google has its own page, where it shares information from the trial, including slides from its opening arguments in court.
Online posting of court documents is a common practice as part of public records during trials. However, this has occasionally led to unintended disclosures. For example, during the Federal Trade Commission’s court battle with Microsoft, incomplete redactions resulted in leaked details, and mistakenly uploaded documents revealed internal plans for a new Xbox console. These incidents highlight the potential risks associated with public access to trial documents.
The case of US v. Google has become a constant tug-of-war over public access to what could be one of the most significant antitrust trials of the decade. Google, Apple, and other parties involved in the trial have expressed concerns about potentially exposing sensitive financial information. The Justice Department is arguing that Google has established an unlawful monopoly in the search engine business. Unlike some similar high-profile cases, the trial is not being broadcast remotely, except for an audio feed that covered a portion of the first day, granted as a last-minute request. As the 10-week trial progresses, it remains to be seen how much information will continue to be posted and made available to the public.
The dispute over access to trial documents reflects the broader challenges faced by the justice system in the digital age. While making court records easily accessible to the public is important for transparency and accountability, it also creates risks regarding the unintentional disclosure of sensitive information. Striking the right balance between openness and protecting sensitive information will continue to be a significant challenge as technology advances.
In conclusion, the Justice Department’s removal of access to publicly posted trial documents in the case of US v. Google has ignited a debate over the online availability of such files. Judge Amit Mehta’s decision on future access to exhibits will determine how these documents will be accessible to the public. The case itself has already raised concerns about the potential exposure of sensitive financial information and has become a focal point in the broader discussion on antitrust issues in the tech industry. As the trial progresses, it remains to be seen how the justice system will navigate the challenges of balancing transparency and the protection of sensitive information in the digital age.