On January 13, 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Castel of the Southern District of New York in SEC v. Telegram Group Inc. et al., No. 19 Civ. 9439 (PKC) granted the motion of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to compel Telegram Group Inc., a technology company best known for its secure messaging app, to produce overseas bank records (Dkt. 67). The SEC had sought these records “fully unredacted” on an expedited basis in support of its claim that Telegram engaged in an unregistered securities offering (Dkt. 52). Telegram objected to any production, asserting that the records were of questionable relevance, that they contained banking and personal information protected by a host of foreign laws, and that it would be unduly burdensome to “to cull through these records and redact the personal information of non-U.S. persons and entities subject to foreign data privacy law protections.” (Dkt. 55). In a short decision, the Court ordered Telegram to produce the records on a tight timeline, holding that “[o]nly redactions necessitated by foreign privacy laws shall be permitted, and a log stating the basis for any redaction shall be produced at the same time the redacted documents are produced.”
There are a few key takeaways from this decision. First, the Court recognized foreign data privacy laws as legitimate grounds for withholding otherwise discoverable information. Defendant was not given a blank check to redact; rather, the Court required Telegram to log the basis for any privacy assertions, and one can expect the SEC will closely question Telegram on the redactions. At the same time, the Court clearly did not agree with the SEC’s characterization of data privacy laws as “blocking statutes” to be ignored, and was not swayed by its complaints that Telegram had not shown that such laws require deference. This is consistent with an observed general heightened sensitivity to data privacy and data security interests in the U.S. and abroad.
Judge Castel’s approach represents a change from U.S. courts’ prior dismissive treatment of similar disclosure objections. Courts traditionally would apply a multi-factor comity analysis that generally prioritized U.S. discovery interests over those of conflicting foreign laws and ultimately required unredacted production. See, e.g., Laydon v. Mizuho Bank, Ltd., 183 F. Supp.3d 409 (S.D.N.Y. 2016) (requiring unredacted production of data protected by the then EU privacy regulation, the 1995 EU Directive 95/46/EC, based on comity analysis set out in Société Nationale Industrielle Aerospatiale v. U.S. Dist. Court for S. Dist. of Iowa, 482 U.S. 522, 544 n.29 (1987) (hereinafter “Aerospatiale”)). Certainly, the SEC pushed for the customary approach, but Judge Castel appears implicitly to have to have resolved in short form (or skipped over) the Aerospatiale comity analysis and accepted the legitimacy of foreign restrictions on disclosure in U.S. proceedings.