British Parliament Blasts Google Over Street View Breaches - InformationWeek

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10/28/2010
11:21 AM
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British Parliament Blasts Google Over Street View Breaches

Official calls U.K. information commission investigation into violations "lily-livered," demands deeper protection of individual privacy.

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A member of Parliament (MP) lambasted Britain's information commissioner for a "lily-livered" investigation into Google and its Street View breaches, which has expanded into a broad review of online privacy and the Internet.

Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow, Essex, put forth an early motion that led to Thursday's debate in London's Westminster Hall to address the issue of the Internet and individual privacy. Many parliamentarians believe there is a broader problem to address than merely Google's much-documented issues, according to British news reports.

"I believe we're potentially sleepwalking into a privatized surveillance society. Ordinary people have no protection against big companies on the Internet -- as the recent Street View fiasco has shown. I feel very strongly about this, and have been campaigning on it in the House of Commons since I was elected," Halfon said.

"The U.K. information commissioner has been lily-livered. When its officers first investigated this outrage, they visited Google's headquarters, had a nice chat with its senior executives, went through their computers and decided to do nothing," he continued."These corporations need to be taught that advancing the technological wonder that is the Internet is one thing. Trampling over the individual's right to privacy is quite another. This Thursday's debate is important, because it is the first chance that parliament has had to hold Google and other Internet companies to account."

On Oct. 24, Google admitted to spying on computer passwords and complete emails from homes across Britain, according to the Sunday Telegraph. The company apologized for downloading this personal data from wireless networks as its vehicles drove up and down residential roads as part of its Street View project, the newspaper said.

Information commissioner Christopher Graham ruled that Google was unlikely to have gathered "significant amounts" of personal information" or data likely to "cause any individual detriment," said reports. This response prompted Halfon to seek the parliamentary debate. In July, the commissioner's office cleared Google of collecting "meaningful personal details" during the company's Street View wireless data breach earlier this year.

In a statement, the information commissioner's office said it met with Google at the company's office and reviewed the data Google collected as part of its Street View project.

"Whilst the information we saw at the time did not include meaningful personal details that could be linked to an identifiable person, we have continued to liaise with, and await the findings of, the investigations carried out by our international counterparts," the commissioner's office said. "Now that these findings are starting to emerge, we understand that Google has accepted that in some instances entire URLs and emails have been captured. We will be making enquires to see whether this information relates to the data inadvertently captured in the U.K., before deciding on the necessary course of action, including a consideration of the need to use our enforcement powers."

On Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission said it is closing its inquiry into Google's inadvertent collection of Wi-Fi packet data in the United States.

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