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Privacy watchdog in trouble over Google

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Tables turned
Blighty's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is in hot water after it sent too non-techies to investigate Google's illegal collection of data from Wi-Fi connections.

The ICO cleared Google of all wrongdoing after examining a sample of so-called "payload" data at Google's London headquarters based on an investigation by two members of its staff. However it turned out the staff, while knowing a lot about data protection law, knew precious little about the technology they were looking at. The ICO later ruled was a "significant breach" of the Data Protection Act.

The Guardian has quoted Conservative MP Rob Halfon as saying it was "astonishing" that the ICO "did not send technical people" to investigate the breach. In fact it only changed its minds when it saw the results of investigations carried out in foreign parts by other, more technology aware investigators.

Halfon said that the IOC seems more Keystone Cops than protector of our civil liberties. “It is extraordinary that the ICO can spend £13m on PR over 10 years but can't find the right resources to investigate breaches of our data protection,"Halfon said.

Despite Google being in the news a lot over privacy, the ICO has only met Google twice in the last two years, the Guardian has found out. When the Google Street View scandle blew up the ICO sent an assistant commissioner and a "strategic liason group manager" to examine the data at Google's headquarters in July, deciding after a two-and-a-half hour meeting that the company was unlikely to have collected "significant amounts of personal data" or data containing any "meaningful personal details".

Of course now the Germans have largely done the work for the UK, the information commissioner last week announced that Google will now be subject to an official audit of all of its data protection practices in the UK. "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," he said.

Just so long as he is not going to appoint his cat to oversee the monitoring we should be ok.

Last modified on 11 November 2010
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