Google May Face New Scrutiny For Privacy Violations In Switzerland

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Legally speaking, there is “little doubt” that Google’s collection of WiFi data by its roving Street View vehicles does not comply with the Swiss Data Protection Act, and the company is likely to come under new scrutiny in Switzerland possibly even resulting in “severe financial consequences,” a respected Swiss law firm has said.

In a brief circulated yesterday, available here, the technology, media and telecoms practice of Geneva and Lausanne-based BCCC law firm, predicted that Google is likely to fall under new scrutiny by the Swiss Data Protection Authority after a US federal court order barred the internet company from destroying data and ordering it to turn over two copies of the hard drive with the data.

Google also called attention to itself when, in response to an order from German officials to turn over data it had collected from WiFi networks within a certain deadline, it did not comply and instead sought more time to determine whether such a handover could violate communication regulations, the firm said. Google had first insisted the data were not as extensive as it later had to admit they are.

The company is likely to face continuing legal, oversight, and public trust problems in Europe and the United States for its involvement in, and handling of concern about, its collection of data, BCCC said.

Google’s data collection likely does not comply with requirements under Article 4 of the Swiss Data Protection Act, BCCC said, citing the principles of: legality – prohibiting deceitful data collection; good faith – requiring people to be fully informed; proportionality – only data that is necessary; finality – only used in the manner disclosed.

Google was not reached for this story.

The situation presents a difficult legal question for any high-tech company, they said, as it must ensure its IT infrastructure and software not expose it to liability.

“In a time when privacy is highly valued by citizens and customers, one should not be surprised to have a court consider a lack of due diligence or implementation of robust procedures to ensure users’ privacy and legal compliance as a fault, no matter how costly such as an audit is,” they concluded, “with potentially severe financial consequences not to mention the damage reputation suffered which might be hard to recover.”

William New may be reached at wnew@ip-watch.ch.

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