Australia launches legal probe into Google privacy violations

[JURIST] Australian Attorney General Robert McClelland [official website] announced Sunday that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) [official website] have launched an investigation [transcript] into whether Google [corporate website; JURIST news archive] violated privacy laws while collecting images for its Street View maps. Google confirmed earlier this month that it had been inadvertently collecting and storing data obtained from streetscape pictures [press release] on unsecured wireless networks. Google has agreed to cooperate with the AFP in its investigation into possible breaches of the nation's Telecommunications Interception Act [text], which prevents people from accessing electronic communications other than for authorized purposes. McClelland's announcement came during a speech launching the country's National Cyber Security Awareness Week [government backgrounder]. McClelland expressed his determination to protect Australians from privacy violations:

[I]n terms of privacy, clearly Australians have concerns about what's happening at the moment, on privacy, particularly online. There was a survey in one of today's papers that talks about 73 percent of Australians want better privacy from organizations like Google and Facebook. So what's really important is that these companies, even though they're based overseas, understand that Australia has privacy laws and Australians expect that those privacy laws will be honored.
Google claims that the data collection was a mistake and was the result of the inclusion of an unintended piece of coding in the Street View software. Google has since disbanded the use of its Street View collection cars.

Australia's investigation follows a similar inquiry by Canada into Google's privacy law violations. Last week, Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart [official website] announced that an investigation has been launched [JURIST report] into unsecured Wi-Fi data collection by Google vehicles, mounted with 360-degree cameras, for the company's Street View service. The investigation will determine whether Google has violated Canada's Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) [text, PDF], which applies to private organizations that collect, use, or disclose personal information in the course of commercial activities. Google is also facing an investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] after an inquiry into Google's data-harvesting techniques was requested by advocacy group Consumer Watchdog [press release]. Australia also joins Belgium, the UK, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland in asking Google to retain data collected in those respective nations.

 

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