Google warned to stop deleting data

Google has been warned by a UK watchdog to stop deleting private Wi-Fi data it collected during its roadtrips around the world, after the search giant revealed it illegally collected 600GB of private data from unsecure Wi-Fi connections in 30 countries last week.

The watchdog, Privacy International, said it would report Google to the police if it continued to destroy any more of the illegal data it collected, which Privacy International wants to use as evidence when bringing the search giant to court.

The data from many countries has already been destroyed, as per the requests of the data protection authorities resident in those countries. These include Ireland, Austria, Denmark, and Belgium, with the latter reversing its decision yesterday. The UK was also among these, so Google is clearly getting contradictory commands from various privacy groups, some telling it to delete the material, others wanting it kept as evidence.

The problem seems to be getting worse, too. Privacy International wrote a letter to the EU’s privacy commissioners, which included the following:

“Last weekend, on the instructions of the Irish data protection commissioner, Google destroyed all WiFi data relating to collection in Ireland. This action has the effect of removing any chance of further legal action of investigation. The action could be seen as collusion to destroy evidence.”

The last line is the key to how serious this could become. If national data protection agencies are accused of colluding with Google to destroy evidence the entire case may spiral out of control. After all, people were complaining about Google having their data. It’s like a Catch 22. Google deletes it to satisfy people, but anger others; or it can keep it and still satisfy some and anger others.

Privacy International is planning to bring Google to court for “unlawful interception” under the UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Google may even be prosecuted under the Computer Misuse Act, which could lead to jail time. The Information Comissioner’s Office has also warned against deleting the data, but has not yet confirmed if it will bring Google to court yet or not.

Google is already being sued by some people, while Germany has launched a full criminal investigation. Other countries like France, Italy and Spain are still pondering the data they have legally collected to see if Google has broken their national data protection laws.