Privacy Group Whiffs On Attempt To Enforce FTC’s Rules On Google

A federal judge today declined to order the Federal Trade Commission to take action against Google (NSDQ: GOOG) over impending changes to the company’s privacy policy.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center had earlier filed a lawsuit claiming that the FTC was not doing its duty to enforce a 20-year privacy agreement that it imposed on Google last year.

That agreement, which grew out of Google’s ill-fated social network Buzz, requires the search giant to follow a set of rules such as obtaining users’ explicit consent when it changes its privacy rules.

EPIC brought the lawsuit shortly after Google announced new privacy changes that will allow it to consolidate existing policies across its different products such as search and YouTube. Google portrayed the move, which is to go into effect on March 1, as a housekeeping measure but critics said it was invasive and a further grab of customer data. The new policy does not require users to log in when they use services like search and YouTube.

In declining to direct the FTC to take action against Google, U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson said the federal courts did not have the authority to tell agencies like the FTC how to do their job in these type of situations. Courts typically have power to oversee federal agencies but only in regard to specific duties, not general enforcement:

Even if the Court gives the sections of the statute cited by EPIC the most liberal reading possible, they do not create a mandatory duty to enforce the Consent Order that can be policed by this Court.

The judge also stressed that her opinion was based purely on the law of judicial review, and not on any opinion about whether or not EPIC’s claim had any merit:

So neither EPIC, nor Google, nor any party with an interest in internet privacy should draw any conclusions about the Court’s views on those matters from this opinion.

FTC filed an order to dismiss EPIC’s case on February 17th, effectively telling the privacy group to mind its own business. EPIC has already filed to appeal today’s ruling.