Germany Conducts Criminal Probe into Google’s Data Collecting

Prosecuting attorneys in Hamburg, Germany recently opened up a criminal investigation into Google for collecting private Internet data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks in the country.

The legal probe in Hamburg, where Google’s German headquarters are located, could develop into more pressure on the company to turn over a hard drive used in its data-gathering effort. Google has up to now declined to turn over the hard drive, according to the New York Times.

Officials in Germany that focus on data collection set a May 26 deadline on the company to turn over a hard drive, which was used in a vehicles that compiles pictures for its 360-degree Street View photo mapping feature.

Criminal charges have not yet been filed against the Internet technology company. The investigation started in response to a complaint filed on May 17 by a German law student named Jens Ferner, who said he was looking for clarity in German law with regard to the collection of data from unsecured wireless networks.

“We are absolutely at an early stage,” said Hamburg Prosecutor Office Spokesman Wilhelm Möllers. “This isn’t something that will be wrapped up in two or three weeks. We have to analyze whether there is reason to file criminal charges.”

Google said on May 14, while under pressure from German authorities, that they had unintentionally collected about 600 gigabytes of data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks while it assembled its Street View archive. Google said the data, which was described as snippets of websites and the contents of personal e-mail messages, was collected because of a programming error.

The company said they would destroy the data in conjunction with authorities, according to the New York Times.

Google spokesman Kay Oberbeck said on May 19 that “as we have said since we made our announcement last week, we are working with the relevant authorities to answer their questions and concerns.”

Under German law, a conviction for illegal data gathering carries a two-year prison sentence or a fine.

Möllers said it was too early into the investigation to say whether prosecutors would be asking Google for one of the hard drives to further the investigation into the company’s data gathering, according to the New York Times.

Street View has been accepted in Britain and France, but the 360 photo archive has faced resistance in Germany and Switzerland. Privacy laws are stricter in the two countries, and opposition to the archive is growing.


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