Google on notice over Grace Millane name suppression breach

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Section
Audio,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 19 December 2018, 7:57AM
Google has been under fire after it emailed the name of the man accused of murdering British backpacker Grace Millane to Kiwi internet users. Photo / Supplied

Google has been put on notice by Justice Minister Andrew Little after breaching court suppressions by naming the man accused of murdering British backpacker Grace Millane.

Google has been under fire for the past two weeks after it emailed the accused man's name to Kiwi internet users.

An email was sent to anyone signed up to its "what's trending in New Zealand" service, despite the man being granted name suppression by a district court judge.

Andrew Little told Mike Yardley his meeting with the internet giant was very productive.

"I just laid out to them the concern that I and Attorney General David Parker have as well. We just said that if they choose to publish into New Zealand, however, they do that, whether it's on the basis of algorithms that they say they can't control but if they choose to publish into New Zealand and breach suppression laws, we have to do something about it, we have to respond."

"They said they are willing to go away and have a look and see what they can do. They said they don't want to be in this position of breaching suppression orders from New Zealand courts, I welcomed that and we have agreed to catch up early next year to see what changes they have made."

When asked whether Google would be facing charges over the breach, Little said, "That's not a decision I get to make".

"We know this is an issue and a concern to the police and the courts because they all need to know that the offender in this case, and in any case, get their fair trial rights. There has been a breach of the suppression orders and right now I am focused on whatever we can do to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Since sending the email Google has defended itself, claiming it was unaware of the name suppression.

The Justice Minister said Google is "genuinely remorseful" for breaching the suppressions and are taking it very seriously.

"They said they do accept the issue and the problem and they do want to do something about it. I take them at their word and that's why we have agreed we will catch up early next year to see how they have gone with it."

"They know that what they do, the support they get, they have got to keep that support from their customers as well as the governments of whatever countries they are in and they clearly show or have a willingness to do that."

Andrew Little said despite the challenges caused by social media, fair trial rights are incredibly important.

"You can stand back and say, 'look this is too hard' but the price of that is that we have to capitulate and concede what are very important rights anyone going through the courts has. When the courts make a suppression order, whether it's of an offender, whether it's of a victim, the people are entitled to know that information isn't going to be published and disrupted widely."

He said if name suppression continues to an issue the government would consider an agreement with partner countries around the world to enforce suppressions.

Google under fire

Google has been under fire for the past two weeks after it emailed the accused man's name to Kiwi internet users.

An email was sent to anyone signed up to its "what's trending in New Zealand" service, despite the man being granted name suppression by a district court judge.

Since sending the email Google has defended itself, claiming it was unaware of the name suppression.

Millane was last seen alive on December 1, the day before her 22nd birthday.

Her body was eventually found in bush on the side of Scenic Drive in the Waitākere Ranges a week later.

A 26-year-old man has been charged with her murder.

Little had already rebuked UK media for naming the accused and said Google stepped over the line as well.

He said Google's excuse wasn't good enough and he was not prepared to accept that they simply weren't aware of the suppression order.

"This thing about they didn't know it was suppressed, I simply don't accept that," Little said.

"Irrespective of that, and yes, this might be the way of the world and modern technology, but the reality is that we cannot surrender the effective administration of justice to algorithms and machines and say, 'Well, that's it, it's all over for fair trial rights.'

"We cannot allow that to happen."

More than 100,000 searches of the 26-year-old's name were also made following his court appearance last week, according to the email Google sent out.

The Silicon Valley company's publicly available analytics also showed the accused's name was the second-most searched item in New Zealand with over 50,000 searches.

A Google spokesperson told the Herald it would comply with any court order it was made aware of, however, they said initial investigations by the company showed it did not know about the suppression order.

"We respect New Zealand law and understand the concerns around what is clearly a sensitive case," the spokesperson said.

"When we receive valid court orders, including suppression orders, we review and respond appropriately. In this case, we didn't receive an order to take action. We are looking for ways to better ensure courts have the tools to quickly and easily provide these orders to us in the future."

The spokesperson said its Google trends alerts are automatically generated by its algorithms and are based on searches over a time period in a selected geography.

 

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