EPIC Isn’t Taking “No” For An Answer, Files Emergency Appeal In Google Privacy Case

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The Electronic Privacy Information Center, also known as EPIC, isn’t backing down from its desire to have Google’s privacy policy changes investigated by the Federal Trade Commission. On February 18th, the FTC basically told the organization to “mind its own business” (as The NYT put it), suggesting to the court that EPIC has no legal standing in the matter, and asked the court to dismiss the case. The court later agreed.

Today, EPIC announced its plans to appeal that decision, and is again pushing for a ruling by March 1st, when the new privacy policy changes are set to go live.

PIC says it filed an “emergency appeal” within hours of the ruling where the court stated that it could not require the FTC to enforce a prior consent order against Google. The reason for the emergency status of the new appeal has to do with the fact that the privacy changes Google plans to enact will go live on March 1st, 2012. EPIC is therefore asking the appellate court to overturn the earlier decision before March 1st.

Google announced in January its plans to consolidate more than 60 separate privacy policy notices into one single, simple policy. The company said that the change will allow it to treat individual customers as a single user across all its products which will mean “a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.” Says Google, not only will the policies be in one place, they’ve also been rewritten so they’re easier to read and understand.

EPIC, however, is concerned about what the change means in terms of Google users’ right to privacy, and how Google is safeguarding users’ personal data. Specifically, the organization claims Google didn’t fully comply with a consent order from the FTC which required Google to answer detailed questions about how it protects the personal information of Google users. EPIC says that Google “chose not to answer many of the questions,” and did not explain the impact on user privacy that will take place on March 1st.

While the allegations being made by EPIC regarding the policy change may or may not have merit, the court essentially ruled that it’s not EPIC’s place to get involved. The FTC, instead, has the right to decide whether or not Google violated the consent order and what should be done if so, the court said.

To say that the ruling angered EPIC would be an understatement. The organization lashed out last week, saying that Congress has “clearly told the FTC to enforce its final orders.” And in response to the claim that EPIC’s request for action by March 1st was “arbitrary,” the organization responded:

“If the government is unaware that Google plans to make a substantial change in its business practices on March 1, 2012, it should turn on a computer connected to the Internet.”

Ouch.

Clearly, today’s announcement of the emergency appeal is a hope for a second shot at forcing the FTC’s hand in the matter.