Britain rules on Street View data-gathering

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Britain's privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office, has reached a conclusion about Google's illegal gathering of Wifi data with its Street View cars.

"It is my view that the collection of this information was not fair or lawful and constitutes a significant breach of the first principle of the Data Protection Act," says information commissioner Christopher Graham. 

He ruled out the possibility of a fine, saying instead: "The most appropriate and proportionate regulatory action in these circumstances is to get written legal assurance from Google that this will not happen again – and to follow this up with an ICO audit."

He took his time coming to this conclusion, which marks something of a U-turn from the ICO's previous position. When Google conceded back in May that it had inadvertently collected the user data, ICO representatives visited Google's California headquarters. The ICO said it saw nothing untoward in the data samples that Google showed it, and therefore wasn't considering prosecution.

But investigations in Germany, Canada and the US found differently, discovering that Google had snaffled quantities of pay-load data, ranging from computer passwords to individual email messages.

After being called 'lily-livered' last month by Conservative MP Robert Halton, the ICO promised it would reopen its enquiry.

It explained that it would ask Google whether the data breach took place in the UK too. If Google said yes, it promised, its response would include 'a consideration of the need to use our enforcement powers'.

It added that it would 'not be panicked into a knee-jerk response'. It clearly hasn't.