By Mike Scarcella
(Reuters) – U.S. Justice Department lawyers say that Alphabet Inc’s Google destroyed internal corporate communications and have asked a federal judge to sanction the company as part of the government’s antitrust case over its search business.
The DOJ asserted in a court filing unsealed in a Washington, D.C., federal court on Thursday that Google failed to timely suspend a policy allowing the automatic, permanent deletion of employees’ chat logs.
The government said Google “falsely” told the U.S. in 2019 that it had suspended “auto-deletion” and was preserving chat communications as it was required to do under a federal court rule governing electronically stored information.
The DOJ asked the court to hold a hearing and weigh an appropriate sanction.
“Google’s daily destruction of written records prejudiced the United States by depriving it of a rich source of candid discussions between Google’s executives, including likely trial witnesses,” DOJ attorney Kenneth Dintzer wrote in the filing.
Google said in a statement on Thursday it “strongly” refuted the DOJ’s allegations. “Our teams have conscientiously worked for years to respond to inquiries and litigation,” a spokesperson said. Google said it has “produced over 4 million documents in this case alone, and millions more to regulators around the world.”
The DOJ declined to comment.
Penalties in circumstances where a judge finds a violation of court rules can include restrictions on what a party is allowed to argue at trial, an order striking a court filing or a monetary penalty.
Google has denied the underlying allegations that it abused its power in the internet search market.
The DOJ’s sanctions bid marks at least the second time in the case that the government has sought to punish Google.
Last year, the DOJ alleged Google unfairly kept internal documents away from antitrust investigators, claiming they were protected by attorney-client privilege. Google denied the allegation.
The judge declined in April 2022 to sanction Google for conduct that occurred prior to the start of the litigation in 2020.
The case is set to go to trial in September.
The case is United States v. Google LLC, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:20-cv-03010-APM.
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(Reporting by Mike Scarcella; editing by Leigh Jones)