Australian police finds Google to be not guilty over Street View interception of personal web activity

News by Dan Raywood

Google is to face no criminal charges over its interception of personal information when recording images for its Street View service.

Google is to face no criminal charges over its interception of personal information when recording images for its Street View service.

According to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), it has been researching whether Google had breached the telecommunications (interception and access) Act 1979 after it announced it had obtained personal data transmitted across unsecured wireless networks in the country.

The AFP said that it had ‘engaged external senior counsel to assist in the assessment of the referral' and advice from the senior counsel concluded that the activities of Google may have constituted a breach of the act.

It said: “Evidence exists to suggest that the potential breach of the act by Google was inadvertent. Coupled with the difficulty of gathering sufficient evidence required for an examination of potential breaches, the AFP has concluded that it would not be an efficient and effective use of the AFP's resources to pursue this matter any further. The likelihood of a successful criminal prosecution in this matter is considered to be low.

“The AFP is satisfied that Google has given undertakings to the Australian Privacy Commissioner in relation to preventing similar incidents in the future and Google's intention to destroy the information obtained upon conclusion of government agency enquiries.”

The findings reflect a recent judgement by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) in the UK, where it said that Google will be subject to an audit and must sign an undertaking to ensure data protection breaches do not occur again, but would not be fined.

Further opinions given to SC Magazine found that most people agreed that while Google's actions were unlawful, they had not acted deliberately or maliciously.

Paul Ducklin, head of technology at Sophos Asia Pacific, said: “Personally, I find the decision to have referred Google for AFP investigation on this particular matter to be a curious one. Street View, after all, has always relied on the systematic, massive-scale, continuous, contiguous collection and commercialisation of data about private property acquired automatically by driving around on public roads.

“If you think that modern privacy and intellectual property laws surrounding photographs are satisfactory (by which the photographer generally gets the rights to any pictures snapped in or from public places), what moral or technical objection can you come up with to the WiFi sniffing which Google carried out?

“After all, you cannot unilaterally choose and should not be forced to build a taller fence to keep Google's all-seeing cameras out of your garden. But you can set up a WiFi access point without asking anyone and when you do, you can choose to make it the equivalent of an opaque three-dimensional fence entirely enclosing your property, simply by turning on WPA encryption.”


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