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South Korea police find Google violated privacy laws

The South Korea National Police Agency [official website, in Korean] announced Thursday that it has found evidence that Google [corporate website; JURIST news archive] illegally collected private data in the process of producing its popular Street View [website] mapping service. The illegally captured data included hundreds of thousands of emails, instant messages, passwords and search histories [Korea Times report] through unencrypted Wi-Fi networks. The information was discovered on 79 hard disks [JoongAng Daily report] seized from Google's Seoul office, which police raided [JURIST report] in August. According to police, the data was captured in Seoul and three other major cities [UKPA report] between October 2009 and May 2010 when Google announced that it had inadvertently collected fragments of data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries. Google has apologized for the intrusion, indicating the data was mistakenly collected and promised to continue cooperating with the investigation [AP report]. Police acknowledged that 10 Google employees in South Korea and the US are being investigated, although each claimed they had no knowledge of what was collected [AFP report]. The police indicated the investigation would be concluded by the end of January [Guardian report], but it remains unclear whether Google will be prosecuted.

South Korea is the latest country to find Google in breach of its privacy, but is the first to publicly announce the discovery of evidence. In November, the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) [official website] announced that Google committed a "significant breach" [press release] of the Data Protection Act [text] through its data collection practices [JURIST report] for its Street View maps. In October, Canadain Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart [official website] announced that Google was in violation of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act [text, PDF] (PIPEDA) when it unintentionally captured personal information [JURIST report] while taking pictures for its Google Street View feature. Also in October, The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] announced that it ended an inquiry [JURIST report] into internal policies and procedures at Google that led to the company inadvertently collecting data on unsecured wireless networks while photographing streetscapes for its Street View maps program. Other countries, including Australia and Spain [JURIST reports] have also launched their own investigations into the privacy breach.

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