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Google vs the court system of New Zealand

Paul Brislen, Editor. 23 May 2018, 7:23 am

As the new Privacy Bill is being constructed and discussed, news that Google declines to abide by New Zealand law with regard to court mandated suppression orders is sure to play a large role in shaping the way new laws are introduced.

Following so quickly as it does on Facebook's ongoing debacle around the way the company collects data and shares with third-party providers, Google's claim that it cannot abide by New Zealand court orders is sure to raise some eyebrows about the role these giant data collection agencies play in our modern lives.

According to the New Zealand Herald, despite a court order requiring all publishers remove references to the first trial of a man accused of a double killing, to ensure his second trial proceeded without prejudice, Google refused, claiming its search engine is domiciled in the US and so does not need to comply with New Zealand laws.

Facebook has argued the same with its decision to base the company in Ireland for tax purposes - something that has become problematic since the EU introduced the General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into effect later in the month. Facebook has said it will deploy GDPR-compliant tems and conditions for EU-based users, but not for the rest of us.

A Google spokesman says that while Google New Zealand is bound by New Zealand laws, Google LLC is not.

Of course, while Google and others claim that abiding by New Zealand laws would be terribly onerous, putting tremendous strain on company resources as they would be forced to police trillions of web pages, such companies have no problem abiding by German laws relating to Nazi symbols or Holocaust denials. Perhaps the multi-million dollar fines play a part in that decision.

All of these decisions do raise questions of cross-border legalities, how we can be assured of representation and legal rights in an era where the companies collecting and mining our data can simply claim not to exist (for legal purposes) within our jurisdiction and the ongoing tussle between legal and commercial worlds. As part of that debate, the Human Rights Commission has released a report Privacy, Data and Technology: Human Rights Challenges in the Digital Age that looks at the domestic and international human rights principles and how they apply in New Zealand. 

While this report looks at the public sector's use of algorithms, perhaps it is time to consider the private sector as well.


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