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Disney backs Fox's request for more data protection in antitrust trial

By Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co <DIS.N> joined Twenty-First Century Fox Inc <FOXA.O> on Wednesday in asking the judge hearing AT&T Inc's <T.N> antitrust case to strengthen an order aimed at keeping its data private if it is used at trial next year.

Disney and Fox have given data to the Justice Department that is being used to build a case against AT&T's bid to buy Time Warner Inc <TWX.N>. The companies say they fear that executives with AT&T, which owns satellite TV provider DirecTV, could inadvertently gain access to it during the trial.

The government sued last month to block the $85.4 billion acquisition, saying the deal could lead to higher prices for rivals and pay-TV subscribers while hampering the development of online video. The trial is set to begin on March 19.

"The complex and competitive business relationships between Fox and defendants that make Fox wary of disclosing sensitive information in this lawsuit are nearly identical to those between TWDC (the Walt Disney Co) and defendants," Disney said in its request.

Disney licenses its content to cable television companies and competes with Time Warner in creating content.

Judge Richard Leon, who is hearing the case at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, had given access to confidential information to the court, Justice Department lawyers and staff, service providers and AT&T and Time Warner's outside counsel.

Disney said that it was making the same request made previously by Fox.

Fox had asked for permission to withhold certain sensitive information if it decided it was not relevant. It also wanted AT&T and Time Warner to tell Fox who will access the information and requested that any lawyer who handles the data be barred from working on matters involving Fox without their consent for two years.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz, editing by G Crosse)