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France: Google Fined by National Commission on Information Technology and Liberty

(Mar. 25, 2011) On March 17, 2011, the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés (National Commission on Information Technology and Liberty, CNIL) fined Google €100,000 (about US$141,000) for violating French data privacy laws. (Déliberation 2011 de la formation restreinte prononçant une sanction pécuniaire à l'encontre de la société Google Inc., CNIL website (Mar. 17, 2011).)

The Commission is an independent data protection authority. Its main mission is to ensure that information technology remains available to every citizen and that it does not infringe upon “human identity, human rights, privacy or personal or public liberties.” (The CNIL, CNIL website (last visited Mar. 23, 2011).)

A press release issued by the CNIL states that for many years Google has been collecting technical data over unsecured Wi-Fi networks and recording personal data (IDs, passwords, login details, and email exchanges revealing information on health and sexual orientation) without the knowledge of the individuals. (Press Release, Google Street View: CNIL Pronounces a Fine of 100,000 Euros, CNIL website (Mar. 21, 2011).)

The press release further provides:

Inspections carried out by CNIL in late 2009 and early 2010 demonstrated that vehicles [Google Street View cars used for Google Maps services] deployed on the French territory collected and recorded not only photographs but also data transmitted by individuals' wireless Wi-Fi networks, without their knowledge. It turns out that the collection of tens of thousands of Wi-Fi access points via “Google cars” allowed the company to develop a database of geolocation [that is] extremely competitive, and thus to acquire a dominant position in the field of location based services. (Id.)

The CNIL had requested in May 2006 that Google stop collecting such data and provide a copy of all the data collected on French territory. Google claimed that the data were collected by mistake, that it is seeking assistance in deleting them, and that it has grounded its Street View cars. The CNIL, however, found that it continues its data collection through its geo-location service Latitude. (Id.)