Wednesday 2 June 2010

Have you been reading my blog, Mr Gardham?

As I was reading the this weekend, I caught Duncan Gardham’s article on Google, which has apparently “mapped every WiFi network in Britain.” It reminded me of what I had blogged about on 21 May. And (of course) what a number of other people had been blogging and writing about during the week, too.

There wasn’t much new to Duncan’s story, other than the quote from someone at Privacy International who thought “it will historically be viewed as a horrendous breach of law and something which a better regulator with a better understanding of the issues and the technology would never have allowed to happen.

“There should be a parliamentary inquiry which should question Google and finally get it to explain what it is up to both technically and commercially.

“The idea that it can log everyone’s wi-fi details because it is all ‘public’ is a bogus argument. It is bogus because of the question of scale and the question of integration with other information which would amount to a huge breach of our privacy.”

Some people might take this to be an attack on those chums up in Wilmslow for not properly applying the relevant provisions of either the Data Protection Act or the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

But from here on in it all gets a bit technical and legal. Arguably, the information they were collecting (ie the networks’ MAC (Media Access Control) address and SSID (Service Set-ID) number) was in the public domain anyway, because the wireless network signals extend beyond the property from which they were being broadcast) and Google was not aware of the identity of the person who was operating the equipment. If it can’t be linked to an identifiable individual, then it’s probably not personal data, so the Information Commissioner has no relevant jurisdiction anyway.

And, the provisions of RIPA may not have been breached if no interception of the actual content of a communication had occurred.

Duncan did acknowledge that the Information Commissioner’s Office wasn’t yet completely convinced that Google had goofed. As a spokesman said: “We are aware that the collection of information by Google Street View cars has raised a number of issues which we are considering. If we find evidence of significant wrongdoing, we will of course investigate and consider what action should be taken.”

This one could rumble on for as long as the Phorm debate. And it could well involve the same types of complainants, perhaps eager for a re-run if they felt they had lost their previous battles against Phorm.

Let’s sit back and see how the story develops.