Google Named in Criminal Filing by U.K. Privacy Group

A U.K. privacy group asked London police to investigate whether Google Inc. should face criminal charges for collecting wireless Internet data from homes while photographing thousands of residential streets.

Privacy International, which has received funding from the European Parliament and the American Civil Liberties Union, said today it formally asked London’s Metropolitan Police to investigate why Google gathered unsecured Wi-Fi data while scanning neighborhoods for its Street View service.

“Police have commenced the investigation,” Privacy International Director Simon Davies said today in an interview. “The fraud squad has it at the moment. They’ll conduct the first level of investigation to determine the essential facts.”

Google, whose images allow website users to click on maps to see 360-degree views of roads, is being investigated in Europe and the U.S. On June 4, the company said it would give European regulators data it mistakenly collected from unsecured wireless networks, while the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said last month it would look at Google’s data collecting.

“This matter is now under consideration and it is yet to be determined what, if any, offenses may have occurred,” said a London police spokesman who declined to be identified. “The complaint alleges illegal access “to online activities broadcast over unprotected home and business Wi-Fi networks.”

Crown Prosecution

The police may choose to forward the complaint to Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service for further investigation, Davies said.

“As we have said before, this was a mistake,” a Google spokeswoman who declined to be identified said in an e-mail today. “We are working with the relevant authorities to answer their questions and concerns.”

Google, operator of the world’s largest search engine, last month halted operation of the vehicles that gather images by driving through neighborhoods with a camera and equipment for locating wireless data hubs.

European governments including Germany, France and Spain began probes of Google after the Mountain View, California-based company said last month its cars had inadvertently recorded information from Wi-Fi networks while photographing roadsides.

Australian Attorney-General Robert McClelland on June 6 said complaints by members of the public had raised issues that required a police investigation.

Google’s collection of the data was also the subject of a conference call among law enforcement officials from 30 U.S. states, Connecticut’s Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said earlier this month. Authorities in Italy, Canada, the Czech Republic and Hong Kong also raised queries about Street View.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Larson in London at elarson4@bloomberg.net.

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