Australian Federal Police to investigate Google Street View privacy claims

Attorney-general Robert McClelland has reportedly ordered the Australian Federal Police to investigate Google for possibly breaching privacy regulations while taking pictures with its Street View cameras.

The incident comes as a number of other countries, including Canada, Germany and the US, are investigating whether the internet giant broke any local laws.

Speaking yesterday with communications minister Stephen Conroy for the launch of cyber-safety week, McClelland says the authorities will investigate whether Google has breached any provisions of the Telecommunications Act.

”In light of concerns having been raised by the public, my department thought there were issues of substance that were raised that require police investigation,” he said.

”I note there has been some complaints voiced, and understandably voiced, by the public in respect to practices that have been reported involving allegations that some information may have been obtained by staff of Google travelling around streets.”

The controversy began when Google started collecting data from its Street View feature in 2006. A piece of software used to upload the photos contained a piece of code that inadvertently collected data from nearby unsecured wireless networks.

While the company has said the collection of this data was an accident, and it isn’t actually sure what data it has recovered in some circumstances, the public outcry has been huge.

Privacy commissioners in Germany, Britain and Canada have already spoken out against the incident, and have already begun investigating whether the company has broken any local laws.

McClelland says the Federal Police has flagged some concerns over Google’s actions. ”They relayed in substantial part to possible breaches of the telecommunications interceptions act, which prevents people accessing electronic communications other than for authorised purposes.”

Conroy commented on the breach in a Senate estimates committee recently, saying it was the “single greatest breach in the history of privacy”.

Meanwhile, Google has continued to apologise for its mistake, and says it will work with the AFP.

“This was a mistake. We are talking to the appropriate authorities to answer any questions they have,” a spokesperson told SmartCompany.

Google has told authorities in France, Germany and Spain it will hand over the data it collected, but the company says it will work with authorities for handling data on a country-by-country basis.

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