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ICO sent 'non-technical' staff to investigate Google

Tory MP raises concerns over 'Keystone Cops'

A Conservative MP has raised concerns over the fact that the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) sent two 'non-technical' members of staff to investigate Google following the Wi-Fi information-gathering debacle.

Google's error came to light in May this year, when an audit of Wi-Fi data collected by the search engine's Street View Cars - which capture real-time photographs of cities across the world for use in Google Maps - by the German data protection authority revealed Google had been accidentally collecting snippets of data.

After the admission, the ICO sent two senior members of staff, an assistant commissioner and a strategic liaison group manager, with "considerable experience" of data protection law to Google to "make a preliminary assessment of the 'pay-load' data it inadvertently collected". They subsequently cleared the search engine of any wrong-doing.

"I find it astonishing that the Information Commissioner seemingly did not send technical people to investigate the Google breach of our private data," Conservative MP Rob Halfon told The Guardian.

"The ICO 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."

The Ministry of Justice released the details of the members of staff that visited Google following questions from Halfon.

The ICO said: "As senior data protection staff with considerable experience, the staff that visited Google's offices were qualified to judge whether any of the information collected by Google was meaningful personal data and whether the Data Protection Act was breached. Advanced technical expertise was not needed to determine this."

Last month, when Google admitted that the inadvertent Wi-Fi snooping collected not only data fragments but entire email messages, website addresses and passwords, the ICO began to make further enquires to see whether it related to the data inadvertently captured in the UK.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham revealed last week that while Google was in "significant breach" of the Data Protection Act, the search engine would not be fined if it deleted all of the data and ensured it never happens again.

"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," said the Information Commissioner.

See also: ICO won't be panicked into response over Google Wi-Fi debacle


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