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New Zealand accuses Google of breaching court order in Grace Millane murder case

New Zealand has accused the Internet giant Google for breaking a court order and suppressing the name of the man charged with murdering a British backpacker. It warned Google to “take responsibility” for its news content. Google revealed the identity of the accused in an email to subscribers of its “what’s trending in New Zealand?” service, even as an Auckland court refused the man to grant a suppression order.


As per a report, the Internet users in New Zealand have searched for the identity of the 26-year-old man accused of murdering British backpacker Grace Millane more than 100,000 times, Google statistics show.  "[Accused] was trending on Google yesterday. (New Zealand)," the email sent earlier this week reads. On Monday, the accused's name was the second-most searched through Google in New Zealand with over 50,000 searches.


Related Google searches automatically provided by the Silicon Valley giant included; "(Accused) New Zealand", "Grace Millane's (alleged) killer" and "Grace Millane murder accused".





Justice Minister Andrew Little said the breach was unacceptable and he had made his views known to Google executives at a meeting in parliament on Tuesday night.


While Google has argued the breach was inadvertent and it was unaware of the court order when the automatically generated email went out, Little said that was not good enough.


“I put the ball back in their court,” he told commercial radio on Wednesday.


“If they choose to set up their algorithms and distribute news, they’ve got to take responsibility for that.”


Little said he met two local Google executives, and a senior legal counsel from the company’s California headquarters joined them by video.


He said they appeared genuinely concerned about the breach and assured him they were working to ensure it did not happen again, with another meeting scheduled for early 2019 to assess their progress.


Little conceded that controlling information on the internet and social media was challenging but said court orders were made for a reason and must be respected.


“We can’t just stand back and say this is all too hard,” he said.


“The price of that (would be) we have to capitulate and concede what are very important rights that anyone going through the courts has.”


He said the case highlighted the potential need for an international agreement if Google “won’t do anything (or) can’t do anything” to resolve the issue.


“They can expect us to talk to partner countries around the world who have a similar interest…about reaching an agreement to enforce each others’ orders in each others’ countries,” he said.


“That may well happen inevitably anyway because it’s not just Google, there are others as well and we have to protect the integrity of our court system.”


However, the problem is not new.


But it is not just Google that is disseminating the accused's name. Searches on social media platforms Twitter and Facebook show hundreds of posts, comments hashtags and photos of the accused.


Twitter's search function automatically completes the accused's full name when simply typing the first letter of his name.


The Herald has approached Google for comment on the Grace Millane case, however, it earlier said it was "not in the business of censoring news".




Auckland University law professor Dr Bill Hodge told Newstalk ZB's Larry Williams this week the breaches by overseas websites was just one of the issues of modern media.


"It's enforceable in New Zealand if you or I repeat or republish what the Daily Mail said, but the Daily Mail is effectively beyond reach," he said.


New Zealand's Government and courts, however, will serve Google with orders to remove content for issues such as breaches of privacy and security, defamation, copyright infringements, impersonations and harassment.

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