[JURIST] Advocacy group Privacy International (PI) [advocacy website] on Thursday accused Google [corporate website; JURIST news archive] of criminal intent for the collection of private data [press release] through unsecured Wi-Fi networks while collecting images for the website's Street Map view. PI released its statement in response an independent audit [text, PDF] published by Google on the company's official blog [website]. PI claims that information gathered in the audit proves that Google's interception of unencrypted data was not inadvertent and should lead to prosecution:
This analysis establishes that Google did, beyond reasonable doubt, have intent to systematically intercept and record the content of communications and thus places the company at risk of criminal prosecution in almost all the 30 jurisdictions in which the system was used. The independent audit of the Google system shows that the system used for the Wi-Fi collection intentionally separated out unencrypted content (payload data) of communications and systematically wrote this data to hard drives. This is equivalent to placing a hard tap and a digital recorder onto a phone wire without consent or authorisation.
Google claims that the data collection was a mistake and was the result of the inclusion of an unintended piece of coding in the Street View software by a software engineer. PI rejects this claim stating that the data separation code went beyond being a "mistake" and could not be blamed on a single engineer. Google has not yet published an official response.
Several investigations have recently been launched into Google's unencrypted data collections to determine whether the Internet giant's practices have violated privacy laws. Earlier this week, Australia commenced an investigation [JURIST report] into whether Google breached the nation's Telecommunications Interception Act [text], which prevents people from accessing electronic communications other than for authorized purposes. Canada launched an investigation [JURIST report] last week into Google's unsecured Wi-Fi data collection to determine whether Google has violated the country's Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act [text, PDF], which applies to private organizations that collect, use, or disclose personal information in the course of commercial activities. Google is also facing an investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission [official website] after an inquiry into Google's data-harvesting techniques was requested by advocacy group Consumer Watchdog [press release]. Belgium, the UK, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland have also asked Google to retain data collected in those respective nations.