May 21, 2010 7:58 pm

Google stops deleting Street View WiFi data

Google halted the global deletion of collected private WiFi data on Friday following confusion over what it should do with the material.

The move came after several European governments asked the internet company to delete the data while others called for a halt.

Privacy International, a UK pressure group, threatened Google with a police complaint if the company did not stop destroying the data by Monday.

Privacy International argued that privacy authorities were wrong to ask for the data to be destroyed as it might be needed as evidence for criminal investigations.

Google’s move came as Alexander Alvaro, a German liberal MEP, urged the European Commission to take action in the case to determine if European data laws had been broken. It is the first indication that the interception could attract attention from Brussels.

Last week, Google revealed it had intercepted personal data from homes and businesses while taking photos for its Street View service. The data had been collected in 30 countries during the past three years.

However, there has been confusion about what Google should do with the data. The data protection authorities of Ireland, Denmark and Austria have asked for Google to destroy the data immediately to prevent any misuse.

But other countries, including Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and Spain wanted the data kept for an investigation.

Google said: “Given that there is some uncertainty about deletion generally, for example one DPA [data protection authority] changed its instruction from delete to retain in the last 24 hours, we think it makes sense to keep the remaining country data while we work through these issues.”

It said the Irish, Danish and Austrian data had already been deleted.

In the US, Google is facing a suit filed by two people in an Oregon court who accuse the company of breaking federal privacy laws.

The plaintiffs have asked for the suit to be given class-action status and have filed a restraining order to prevent Google from deleting any of the data.

In Germany, Hamburg data protection officials have launched a preliminary criminal investigation into the data interception and will decide within the next few weeks whether a full inquiry should be launched.

Other countries are still trying to determine whether their national data protection laws have been violated. The UK information commissioner said it had not ruled out action against Google and could take part in a collective case with other countries.

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