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The Privacy Commissioner has today asked police to investigate Google's gathering of personal wireless internet data during its street view operation in New Zealand.
The commission and police met today to discuss Google's possible breach of the Crimes Act after concerns were expressed about reports it collected WiFi information while photographing houses and streets with 3D cameras for its mapping service.
Google has admitted collecting public WiFi data in more than 30 countries though it was not known what kind of information had been collected. The company has "locked-down" the information while the matter is being investigated.
The privacy scandal has sparked fears that Google might have intercepted personal banking details and could link people's internet behaviour to home addresses.
Assistant Privacy Commissioner Katrine Evans, in a statement, said that following today's meeting the commission and police had agreed the matter would now be formally referred to police.
"So that they can consider whether Google has committed a criminal offence by collecting payload data from WiFi networks during its street view filming."
The commission would continue to consider the privacy angles and would not comment further, she said.
Taylor Shaw privacy specialist Kathryn Dalziel said it would be a breach of the Crimes Act if Google was found to have intercepted any communication.
"This will create an interesting issue in terms of international law, since the company is based outside of New Zealand."
Ms Dalziel said it would be up to police to investigate whether a crime had been committed.
A Google New Zealand spokesperson said the company was "profoundly sorry" for the mistake and that the collection of data would have been limited by the fact that the Google cars "were on the move".
Internet users would have needed to be using their network as a car passed their house.
"Our in-car WiFi equipment automatically changes channels five times a second. That said, it's possible that the fragments of data we collected could contain entire emails or other content if a user broadcast personal information over an open network at that moment."
The spokesperson said the equipment used was bought from a third party and though the software would have recognised encrypted transmissions, that particular data would have been discarded immediately. Encrypted data could include details like online banking and other secure files.
This is not the first time Google has raised privacy concerns.
In April, a joint letter to Google from a group of international privacy regulators -- including New Zealand -- was sent to Google with concerns about combining their private email service, Google mail with a social networking service called Buzz.
Google's street view project itself, which photographs houses and streets with 3D cameras has also raised privacy concerns.