Google Australia prepares for two-front investigation

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Did Google breach Privacy, Telecommunications Acts?

Google Australia has promised to cooperate with both the Privacy Commissioner and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) should it face a two-front investigation of its discontinued WiFi data harvest.

The AFP is currently determining if it will pursue an investigation of Google that was referred to the agency by Attorney-General Robert McClelland this week.

Australian Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis has meanwhile been in discussions with Google since mid-May, and yesterday confirmed that her investigation would continue even if the AFP investigation were to proceed.

"My Office continues to conduct an investigation into Google's collection of WiFi payload data," she told iTnews.

"Our understanding is that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) is looking at Google's compliance with the Telecommunications Interception Act ... my investigation is ongoing and the focus is compliance with the Privacy Act.

"The Privacy Commissioner will continue to liaise with the AFP as our investigations continue."

Should Google be found guilty of breaching the Privacy Act, it may be fined and ordered to destroy its records of the data.

Penalties for contravening the Telecommunications Interception Act range from financial compensation to two years' imprisonment.

An AFP spokesman told iTnews that it was assessing the matter against its operational priorities to determine if it will accept the Google investigation.

"The AFP can confirm that it has received a referral from the Attorney-General's Department," he said.

"The referral relates to possible breaches to the Telecommunications Interception Act ... This matter is being assessed against the Case Categorisation and Prioritisation Model (CCPM)."

Globally, Google has admitted to collecting some 600 gigabytes of data transmitted over public WiFi networks, including publicly available network information, as well as the more sensitive 'payload data' that was transmitted over the networks.

The search giant claims that it had been collecting payload data by mistake; however, it has been accused of attempting to patent its WiFi sniffing technology in November 2008.

A Google Australia spokesman told iTnews that the November 2008 patent was "entirely unrelated to the software code used to collect WiFi information with Street View cars."

"This [collecting payload data] is a mistake for which we are profoundly sorry," the spokesman said yesterday. "We are talking to the appropriate authorities to answer any questions they have."


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