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Australia won't start new Google Street View probe

After examining an FCC report, Australia's privacy commissioner has decided against launching a new investigation into Google Street View.

Google's Street View car in action.
Google's Street View car in action. James Martin/CNET

Despite earlier reports saying that it might do so, Australia won't take aim at Google's Street View service over the collection of Wi-Fi data.

The country's service reported today that Australia Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim was planning to evaluate a recently released U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report on Street View data collection to determine if his office should call on the Australian Federal Police to launch an investigation into the search giant's practices. However, in a subsequent media statement, the commissioner's office made it clear no such investigation would be initiated.

"I have decided not to open another investigation into Google Street View," Pilgrim wrote in a statement today. "In 2010 the Office found Google in breach of the Privacy Act after it was confirmed that Google collected personal information through unsecured WiFi payload data from its Street View vehicles."

The FCC released its report last month, though the document was heavily redacted. The agency concluded that a rogue engineer had written code to collect data from Wi-Fi networks, including e-mail, text messages, and passwords. That engineer, according to the FCC report, told two Google employees of the code and issued a document saying data would be collected.

Most importantly for Google, the FCC found Google had not done anything illegal. It was, however, charged a $25,000 fine for "deliberately impeding and delaying" the FCC's probe.

Although Google had hoped that the conclusion that it was innocent would allow it to move past the issue, U.S. lawmakers last week urged the Department of Justice to reopen its investigation into the matter, telling U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter that the data collection was a "deliberate software-design decision."

"In light of the FCC report on Google Wi-Spy -- which revealed Google intentionally collected personal information from Americans -- I urge the Department of Justice to re-evaluate the Google Wi-Spy incident," Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) said in a statement last week. "Privacy is a critical issue and neither Google's influence nor size absolves it from responsibility."

Australia's privacy commissioner said today that he reviewed the FCC report, but added that his predecessor's work on the matter will suffice. A previous formal investigation by Australia's privacy office ended with Google being ordered to apologize, submit to a privacy assessment of Street View's data, and communicate with the commissioner's office whenever data was to be collected in the future.

Google has not publicly commented on Australia's investigation. However, the company has sounded off on other reports claiming countries are thinking about launching new investigations, saying that it has already been proven innocent.

"We have always been clear that the leaders of this project did not want or intend to use this payload data," a Google representative told CNET last week. "Indeed Google never used it in any of our products or services. Both the DOJ and the FCC have looked into this closely -- including reviewing the internal correspondence -- and both found no violation of law."

CNET has contacted Google for comment on the possible Australian investigation. We will update this story when we have more information.