Europeans may reopen Street View probe

BERLIN: European privacy regulators say they are considering reopening their inquiries into Google's collection of personal emails and web searches for its Street View service.

The move came after revelations that the activity had not been a lone programmer's error, and that others at the company had been told about it.

Many regulators in Europe feel misled by Google in the matter, said Jacob Kohnstamm, a Dutch regulator who is the chairman of the top European privacy panel. He called for a stronger global response.

"It is time for data protection authorities around the world to work together to hold the company accountable," Kohnstamm said.

Google executives, he said, had reassured European lawmakers, often in personal appearances, that the data collection, which was illegal in Europe, was unintentional and the work of one engineer working secretly.

Google's collection of 600 gigabytes of personal data — including emails, photos, Web histories and passwords — from Wi-Fi routers worldwide was first uncovered in Germany in 2010. It prompted a series of inquiries in Europe and elsewhere.


The data was obtained from unsuspecting households as cars photographing the streets for the company's Street View project drove by.

All the overseas reviews except two in Germany — one regulatory, one criminal — were settled after Google apologised and blamed an error by the programmer for the incident.

"We had been told that it was a simple mistake," said Johannes Caspar, the data protection commissioner for Hamburg, whose investigation first brought the illegal collection of internet data to light. "But now, we are learning that this wasn't a mistake and that people within the company knew this information was being collected. That puts it in a totally different light."

His office is still investigating, he said.

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission released a heavily redacted report on its inquiry, finding that Google had broken no US laws but had obstructed its investigation.

Last Saturday, Google made available a largely unredacted version of the report that offered a fuller picture of what had happened.

Privacy regulators in Britain and in France said they would review the FCC report to determine whether further action was called for.

The New York Times