Q. I heard that Google is being forced to hand over YouTube access logs to Viacom as evidence in a copyright suit. This seems like a major privacy issue. Our company provides free health information to our employees over the Internet. Our internal web site users have created employee profiles that include personal information such as their names and e-mail addresses. Could we be forced to hand over our user information if we ever became involved in litigation?
A. A little context: Recently, Viacom brought a copyright infringement lawsuit against Google, alleging that YouTube users posted copyrighted information on YouTube’s web site. Originally, privacy groups strongly opposed this order because private user information would have been released. Google and Viacom have now reached an agreement: Google will make user information and Internet protocol (“IP”) addresses anonymous before giving the personal data to Viacom.
Regarding your question, various state and federal laws provide a high degree of protection for personal health information. Nevertheless, the Viacom order shows that courts are sometimes willing to sacrifice an individual’s privacy in the interests of justice.
It would be wise to place a notice in your employee handbook that user information will be kept private, but that the company will comply with all laws and lawful court orders.
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