NZ authorities considering investigation of Google

NZ authorities considering investigation of Google

Google could face a criminal investigation for collecting personal wireless internet data from New Zealanders while filming for its Street View project. The privacy scandal has sparked fears that Google intercepted personal banking details and could link people's internet behaviour to home addresses. Assistant Privacy Commissioner Katrine Evans said her office would discuss with the police today whether Google should be investigated for breaching the Crimes Act. It was already working with privacy commissioners in other countries, including Australia and Canada, to determine whether the internet search giant had breached the Privacy Act. Matt Sumpter, a partner at law firm Chapman Tripp, said it was illegal under the Crimes Act to intentionally intercept a private communication with an interception device, although certain organisations such as the police and the SIS were exempt. "On the face of things there certainly is reason for the privacy commissioner to be concerned, and every reason for the commissioner to be discussing what is potentially a very serious issue with the police." The usual penalty was up to two years' imprisonment, but courts could instead impose a fine and must take into account the financial capacity of the offender, he said. "You're looking here at a very, very large organisation and the depth of its pockets would be a material factor." The Australian Federal Police is investigating possible breaches of that country's Telecommunications Interceptions Act. Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said Google could have "hoovered" up data from banking transactions, but the company has denied this. Evans said it was not known what information Google had collected. "It's all pretty speculative at the moment. We don't know whether it's the actual content of communications or [data saying] this computer spoke to this computer at this time." Google had "locked down" the data while affected countries investigated the matter. If the office found Google had breached the Privacy Act, it could request the company make various undertakings about how it behaved in future, and compensate any individuals who were harmed by the breach, she said. If Google refused to observe the undertakings, the office could ask the Human Rights Review Tribunal to order it to do so. Google has admitted collecting public wi-fi data in more than 30 countries while it photographed streets and homes using cars equipped with 3-D cameras for its Street View mapping service. Spokeswoman Annie Baxter said it was "profoundly sorry" for its mistake, and would work with authorities to answer any questions they had. Baxter said the kind of information collected would have been limited because its cars were on the move and a person would have had to be using their wi-fi network when Google drove by. It had not collected encrypted data, which usually includes bank transaction data.

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