An investigation by Australian Federal Police has found Google definitely breached Australia’s telecommunications laws when its StreetView cars captured personal data from unprotected Wi-Fi networks – but the AFP will not proceed with litigation because, one, the breach was inadvertent; and, two, it finds proceeding further is simply too hard.
The police received a referral from the Attorney-General’s Department in June requesting an investigation into whether Google had breached the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (TIA) after the search engine made public that it obtained personal data transmitted across unsecured wireless networks in Australia.
The AFP says it found Google had breached privacy laws when it collected information from home Wi-Fi networks but that the breach was inadvertent.
“Evidence exists to suggest that the potential breach of the TIA by Google was inadvertent,” says the AFP. “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 AFP says the likelihood of a successful criminal prosecution is low.
The breach involved Google sucking up 600GB of “payload data” from unsecured wireless networks over several years while taking pictures for its StreetView mapping service.
“The AFP are 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 inquiries,” an AFP statement says.
Google to pay $1 in US case
Meanwhile in the US Google has admitted to trespassing, but will pay just $1 to resolve a lawsuit over its use of photos of a couple’s Pennsylvania home for its Street View mapping service.
The agreement ends a case brought by Aaron and Christine Boring, who said the Internet search company violated their privacy by photographing their Pittsburgh home and swimming pool without their permission. They said the home sits on a street clearly marked “Private Road.”
As in Australia, the US Federal Communications Commission is examining whether Google’s collection through its StreetView cars of e-mails and other private data was illegal. Google has called the collection a mistake. The US Federal Trade Commission dropped its probe in October.