Andrew Little says he'll meet Google again in the new year. Photo: RNZ

Andrew Little gives Google a serve over Grace Millane suppression breach

The justice minister says he’s cautiously satisfied by assurances from the internet giant after they sent representatives to his parliamentary office yesterday in the wake of Spinoff revelations

When the Spinoff broke the news last week that Google had sent out an email naming the man accused of killing backpacker Grace Millane, in breach of an unequivocal interim suppression order by New Zealand courts, the company attempted to brush it off – offering no comment and directing the Spinoff to a generic and irrelevant info page.

Yesterday, however, the internet giant arrived with its tail between its legs at parliament to deliver assurances to Justice Minister Andrew Little that it understood the gravity of its actions.

Google was represented at the meeting by two New Zealand based representatives and another via video link from their California base.

Andrew Little described it as a “constructive meeting”.

He told the Spinoff: “The upshot was they’ve agreed to consider what action they can take.”

Little said he addressed directly the Spinoff revelation that they had actively sent an email to anyone subscribed to its “New Zealand trends” newsletter naming the accused in the subject header.

“I’ve suggested any automated email concerning a court case and generated on the basis of the volume of queries could have a delay built into it until a manual check is made of any court orders relating to it,” he said.

Little said Google had agreed to engage with officials “to see what else could be done”.

He was sceptical, however, about Google’s earlier protestations that that they should have been informed of any court orders around name suppression.

Little said that “was more about putting the onus on the courts to actively inform the likes of Google thus letting them off the hook.”

Little said Google could not avoid responsibility by claiming impunity in others’ jurisdictions.

“The general message was this is an ethical issue about their conduct when they are publishing into nation states,” he said.

This was about “their obligation not to undermine the rule of law by breaching suppression orders. We’ve agreed to meet early in the new year to see what progress has been made.”

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There is cross-party enthusiasm to deal with the broader issue of large-scale offshore internet companies’ impact on democracy. Mark Mitchell, the National Party spokesperson for justice, last week acknowledged the companies had at worst become “a wrecking ball in people’s lives. Jurisdiction is just one issue to overcome. Happy to work with Andrew on a challenge as big as this.”

Ross Young, head of policy for Google New Zealand, said: “Google respects New Zealand law and we understand the concerns around what is clearly a sensitive case. When we receive valid court orders, including suppression orders, we review and respond appropriately.

“Yesterday we had a constructive conversation with the relevant ministers to explain our processes and how to address similar situations in the future. With regards to this specific and unique case, we have taken appropriate action.”


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