PM raises Google suppression breach

Jacinda Ardern has again raised the issue of New Zealand’s suppression laws with Google, during a dinner at the World Economic Forum.

Justice Minister Andrew Little met with Google in the Beehive in December, after the mulitnational breached New Zealand suppression laws in the sensitive case of murdered backpacker Grace Millane.

Ardern attended a dinner hosted by Google at the international forum in Davos on Wednesday night (local time).

She was one of about 20 people invited to the dinner, and said she did not seek out the invitation in order to talk to Google’s leaders about the suppression breach, but saw it as an opportunity to raise the issue again.

Ahead of the engagement, Ardern said because it was a dinner, it could be difficult to have any kind of substantial conversation on the issue, but she did intend to raise it.

Afterwards, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said she did raise the name suppression issue “and was given an assurance that Google will be looking further into it, and will follow up with the Government in the near future”.

Following his meeting with local Google executives at the Beehive in December, Little said Google had to adhere to New Zealand laws if it wanted to be a distributor and publisher of news in this country.

“I don’t accept that they can absolve themselves of responsibility when it comes to breaching suppression orders from our judicial system,” Little said at the time.

“It is their problem, they’ve set themselves up as a publisher of news in this country – as well as many others – it’s for them to adhere to the various rules in each country, and that includes observing suppression orders.”

It was up to Google to make itself aware of suppression orders, and fix its systems - or algorithms - to comply.

New Zealand senior manager of policy and government affairs Ross Young briefly spoke to media following the “please explain” meeting in Wellington, where he committed to looking at what could be done to respect suppression orders to stop a repeat.

“I’m confident we can explore what is possible in the future.”

Little said he made it clear to Google he expected an update in the new year. He was yet to hear back from the company on any further developments.

Suppression breach

The breach came about after the 26-year-old man charged with the murder of UK backpacker Grace Millane was granted interim name suppression by the court.

However, Google breached the suppression through its Google Trends service.

The search engine giant collated news stories from across the globe – including those outside New Zealand jurisdiction, which had legally named the man – and sent out the automated list to subscribers of Google Trends, including New Zealanders, breaking suppression orders.

Enforcement issues

In December, Little said failure to comply with court orders could see the multinational face legal action, or an organised international effort to stop them trying to operate above the law.

But it was unclear what powers New Zealand actually had to hold Google to account.

The changing online and social media landscape has created new and complex issues in terms of criminal justice and privacy laws.

While some questioned whether the laws were still fit-for-purpose, others argued it was up to companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter to adhere to the laws despite the changing landscape.

The issue is complicated when the server generating content, like Google Trends, is based in another jurisdiction.

Little argued that if the content was delivered in New Zealand, and the company had an office and employed staff in New Zealand, then it had to adhere to New Zealand laws.

Meanwhile, Google has fallen foul of Europe’s tough new data privacy laws.

The company has been fined almost US$57 million (NZD$84m) by French regulators, marking the first major penalty against one of the US tech giants since the regulations came into force last year.

France’s data-privacy agency said Google failed to fully disclose to users how their personal information was collected and what happened to it.

It also failed to properly obtain users’ consent for the purpose of showing them personalised ads, according to the French watchdog.

New Zealand is currently working on similar privacy law reforms, with the Privacy Act now 25 years old.

Newsroom is powered by the generosity of readers like you, who support our mission to produce fearless, independent and provocative journalism.

Become a Supporter


Newsroom does not allow comments directly on this website. We invite all readers who wish to discuss a story or leave a comment to visit us on Twitter or Facebook. We also welcome your news tips and feedback via email: contact@newsroom.co.nz. Thank you.