Canadian Urges Google To Champion Privacy Rights

Anne Cavoukian Ontario privacy commissioner A Canadian privacy official has asked Google to appeal an order requiring it to disclose records about YouTube users.

"Google has successfully fought broad government subpoenas for users' search records in the past," wrote Ann Cavoukian, Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. "Google now has the opportunity to champion users' privacy in this case, and to garner widespread support from the privacy community and the public by taking decisive action."

Last week, U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton in New York ordered Google to give Viacom detailed records about YouTube users, including their screen names, IP addresses and videos viewed. Viacom had requested the information as part of its $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit against Google's YouTube.

Google responded that it would seek to anonymize the records before disclosing them. Viacom, meanwhile, promised to keep information about YouTube users confidential. "The personally identifiable information that YouTube collects from its users will be stripped from the data before it is transferred to Viacom. Viacom will use the data exclusively for the purpose of proving our case against YouTube and Google," Viacom said in a statement posted on its Web site.

As of Thursday evening, Viacom and Google were still attempting to hammer out exactly how the YouTube data would be anonymized.

But Cavoukian said such efforts won't necessarily work. "Those are hollow assurances," she told Online MediaDaily, adding that many data breaches have often been caused by insiders acting against company directives. Cavoukian also points out that the court order isn't limited geographically, which means it affects the privacy of Canadian YouTube users as well as those in the U.S.

In her letter to Google, Cavoukian urged the company to argue that Stanton's order violates the U.S. Video Privacy and Protection Act. That 1988 law, passed after a newspaper published video rental records of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, bans the release of information about people's video rentals without their consent.

Last week's order has drawn protests from the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, which also urged Google to appeal it. Google last week said it doesn't intend to appeal Stanton's order.

Viacom says it needs the information to show that YouTube garnered its huge audience due to pirated clips. Google argues that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act safe harbor provisions immunize it from suit provided it removes copyrighted material upon request. But Viacom argues that those safe harbors don't apply if Google has directly profited from copyrighted material.

Two years ago, Google opposed an attempt by the U.S. Department of Justice to subpoena users' search queries. In that case, the ACLU got involved before the court ruled in Google's favor.

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