The row between Australian authorities and internet giants Google and Facebook has taken a new turn, with the Australian Federal Police claiming that Facebook’s lack of cooperation is putting lives at risk.
“This situation could lead to loss of life, there’s no doubt about that at all”, AFP Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan told Fairfax papers. ”It’s just a matter of time.”
A senior investigator with an unnamed state’s police service told Fairfax that non-US authorities could not get Facebook to cooperate.
“They only comply to subpoenas issued by a US court”, the investigator said
Google returns fire
Meanwhile, Google has hit back at Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s criticism of its record on privacy, questioning his commitment to plans to censor the internet.
The communications minister also came under fire more broadly on Tuesday after accusing the internet giant of being responsible for the “single greatest breach in the history of privacy”.
The attack on Google and its chief executive during a Senate hearing on Monday night comes after the company criticised the government’s plans to introduce a mandatory internet filter.
But the company responded to the latest round in the debate by questioning Senator Conroy’s own commitment to the filter policy.
“We were surprised to hear more discussion about Google and Facebook than about the actual proposed filter,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.
Google has been an ardent critic of the filter plan, saying that while protecting the free exchange of ideas and information could not be without some limits, people should retain the right to freedom of expression.
Senator Conroy’s comments on Monday night referred to revelations Google collected private information about people’s wireless internet connections as it took pictures for its global Street View mapping service.
Various privacy regulators have accused the company of unlawful action in intercepting the data.
“They consider that they are the appropriate people to make the decisions about people’s privacy data, and that they are perfectly entitled to drive the streets and collect as much private
information by photographing over fences and collecting data information,” Senator Conroy said.
“This is probably the single greatest breach in the history of privacy.”
Senator Conroy also launched a personal attack on the company’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt.
“I think that the approach taken by Schmidt is a bit creepy, frankly,” he said.
Greens blame Conroy ‘payback’
Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlam said Senator Conroy’s attack was clearly related to the company’s opposition to the government’s internet filtering plan.
“The minister has an unfortunate habit of shooting the messenger,” Senator Ludlam said.
“Whether it be online civil liberties groups or one of the world’s largest tech companies, you criticise mandatory internet censorship at your peril,” he said.
Yahoo joins criticism
Other major internet service providers, including Yahoo, have also criticised the filter plan, describing it as heavy-handed, as has US ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich.
Echoing a view expressed by the US State Department, Mr Bleich said there were other ways of policing illegal content that would not impinge on freedom.
“The internet needs to be free,” Mr Bleich said in April.
“We have been able to accomplish the goals that Australia has described, which is to capture and prosecute child pornographers … without having to use internet filters.”