NZ police to investigate Google data collection

New Zealand police said Thursday they are investigating whether Google committed a criminal offense when it gathered personal wireless Internet data during filming for its Street View feature in New Zealand.

Last month, Google acknowledged it had mistakenly collected data from public WiFi networks in more than 30 countries, including New Zealand. The admission has sparked fears that Google intercepted personal e-mails, passwords, personal banking details and even web browsing histories at home addresses.

New Zealand’s Crimes Act makes it an offense to intercept data.

Assistant Privacy Commissioner Katrine Evans said earlier the commission had formally referred the issue to police.

“They can consider whether Google has committed a criminal offense by collecting payload data from WiFi networks during its Street View filming,” she said in a statement following a meeting with police officials.

Police spokesman John Neilson said the police national cyber crime center was investigating the complaint to determine “whether any criminality has been committed.”

Law firm Taylor Shaw privacy specialist Kathryn Dalziel said it would be a breach of the Crimes Act if Google was found to have intercepted any communication.

“This will create an interesting issue in terms of international law, since the company is based outside of New Zealand,” she said.

Penalties of fines and imprisonment can be imposed for breaches of the Crimes Act.

Google New Zealand spokeswoman Annie Baxter said in an e-mail the company was “profoundly sorry” for the mistake and that the data collection would have been limited by the fact that the Google cars “were on the move.”

Internet users would have needed to be using their network as a car passed their house.

“Our in-car WiFi equipment automatically changes channels five times a second. That said, it’s possible that the fragments of data we collected could contain entire e-mails or other content if a user broadcast personal information over an open network at that moment,” she said.

“We will work with all the relevant authorities to answer any questions they might have,” she told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Baxter, Google’s publicity manager based in Australia, said the equipment used was bought from a third party and though the software would have recognized encrypted transmissions, that particular data would have been discarded immediately. Encrypted data includes banking and other commercial transaction details.

Associated Press