Google escapes criminal charges for Wi-Fi snooping

Google escapes criminal charges for Wi-Fi snooping

By , Dec 06 in blog with 0 comments

AFP thumb Google escapes criminal charges for Wi Fi snoopingAfter a six-month investigation, the Australian Federal Police has determined Google may have breached telecommunications interception laws when it hoovered up reams of personal information from home Wi-Fi networks.

However, it has decided not to pursue the matter further due to the difficulty of gathering evidence and its determination that the privacy breach was inadvertent.

The breach, which landed Google in hot water with authorities all over the world, was dubbed the “single greatest breach in the history of privacy” by the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy.

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It involved Google sucking up 600GB of “payload data” from unsecured wireless networks over several years while taking pictures for its Street View mapping service.

In July, the Privacy Commisioner’s review into the matter found the company breached the Privacy Act, but the then commissioner, Karen Curtis, said she did not have powers to impose any sanctions on the company.

Instead, Google gave several undertakings to improve its privacy credentials and published an apology on its official blog.

Late on Friday, the AFP announced it had concluded its investigation into whether Google breached the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act after receiving external legal advice.

“Advice provided by the senior counsel concluded that the activities of Google may have constituted a breach of the TIA,” the AFP said.

“Evidence exists to suggest that the potential breach of the TIA 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 AFP said it believed the likelihood of a successful criminal prosecution in this matter was low, and that it was satisfied that Google had given undertakings to the Privacy Commissioner in relation to preventing similar incidents in the future.

“Law enforcement agencies have made comparable conclusions in relation to similar experiences in overseas jurisdictions that have been resolved within the privacy regimes that exist in those jurisdictions,” it said.

Meanwhile, earlier this year a Senate inquiry into the adequacy of online privacy laws wondered whether Google may have also been breaching the TIA by scanning the contents of users’ emails on Gmail for keywords in order to push more relevant advertising.

The Attorney-General’s Department examined the matter and late last week responded that it did not believe Google was breaking the law.

This was partly because Gmail’s terms of service say that users consent to having their emails scanned for advertising purposes. Furthermore, the scanning takes place once emails are open in the mailbox of Gmail users, not when the communications are passing over the telecommunications network, meaning there was no “inteception”.

Story by Asher Moses www.smh.com.au


About the author

 Google escapes criminal charges for Wi Fi snooping Mike Andrew has been working with the Internet and small business for over 12 years. Mike has been a keynote speaker at conventions and seminars and conducted social media training sessions all over the world. Mike has an extensive media background having worked in electronic media for over 30 years. Mike specialises in social media and Internet marketing strategy, SEO techniques and search engine marketing campaigns. His articles appear on numerous blogs around the web as well as national magazines.

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