Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland has asked the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to investigate whether Google breached any laws during its inadvertent collection of Wi-Fi data around the globe.
In a post on 23 April, the search giant discussed on its Lat Long blog (which is used by the developers of its geographic Earth and Maps services to post updates) that its Street View cars were simultaneously collecting data on Wi-Fi hotspots as they drove around populated countries automatically taking photos.
"In light of concerns having been raised by the public, my department thought there were issues of substance that were raised that require police investigation," McClelland told reporters on Sunday.
"I note there has been some complaints voiced, and understandably voiced, by the public in respect to practices that have been reported involving allegations that some information may have been obtained by staff of Google travelling around streets.
"On Friday, the Attorney-General's Department did refer those allegations and those reports to the Australian Federal Police.
"They relayed in substantial part to possible breaches of the telecommunications interceptions act, which prevents people accessing electronic communications other than for authorised purposes."
Google's senior vice president of Engineering and Research, Alan Eustace, had already said that the search giant would delete the data and stop collecting Wi-Fi data (including in Australia). "The engineering team at Google works hard to earn your trust — and we are acutely aware that we failed badly here," he wrote.
However, the potential privacy breach has not been received well, with governments around the globe expressing outrage towards Google over the matter.
In Australia, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has described the Google breach as possibly "the largest privacy breach in history across Western democracies".
The AFP has not yet responded to a request for comment on what action it is taking with respect to the situation. "This was a mistake. We are talking to the appropriate authorities to answer any questions they have," Google said on the issue.
The news comes several weeks after the Opposition pressured Conroy in a Senate Estimates Committee hearing to refer the Google Wi-Fi matter to authorities.
"Why are you sitting back and watching? Why are you not referring the matter?" Liberal Senator Mary Jo Fisher asked Conroy, who responded that the matter was being handled through the Federal Privacy Commissioner.
"The Privacy Commissioner is the appropriate place to start this process," he said.