Police probe Google over Wi-Fi blunder

Google

Met investigates the possibility of charges after complaints from Privacy International

The Metropolitan Police is to probe Google over the privacy blunder in which the company collected W-Fi data during a country-wide sweep for its Google Street View service.

“The MPS has received a complaint regarding alleged access to online activities broadcast over unprotected home and business Wi-Fi networks,” the Met said in a statement sent to PC Pro. “The matter is now under consideration.

“It has yet to be determined what, if any, offences may have allegedly occurred.”

The action follows a complaint from rights group Privacy International alleging that the data breach represented a criminal interception.

According to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) - which has so far not started its own investigation - Google had been collecting data that carried some personal ‘payload’ for three years, while using scanning equipment to capture details of local Wi-Fi networks in the company's Street View photography cars.

The police will first ascertain whether any laws have been breached as suggested by Privacy International which brought the action under two laws - the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the Wireless Telegraphy Act.

According to Privacy International, the police investigation is likely to involve interviews with Google staff to ascertain who within the company is the “responsible person”.

Privacy International says it has been briefed on the prosecution process and that an initial investigation will take eight to ten days, after which the case will be escalated to a specialist team working at the national level.

No estimate has been given regarding the likely period of the main investigation, but the campaign group was obviously pleased with its work.

"We are pleased that the police have taken up this complaint for investigation. An evidence based approach to this complex matter is sorely needed now,” said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International.

"We have already told police that we will cooperate fully with any inquiries. I know Google will want to do the same.

"We hope that this difficult process will give Google pause for thought about how it conducts itself. Perhaps in future the company will rely less on PR spin and more on good governance and reliable product oversight."

Google was not available for comment at the time of going to press, but has previously said it would co-operate fully with the authorities looking into the breach.

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