Google breaches gag order, names NZ murder accused

British tourist Grace Millane was found dead just outside Auckland this month.
British tourist Grace Millane was found dead just outside Auckland this month. PHOTO: INTERNET

WELLINGTON • New Zealand warned Google to "take responsibility" for its news content yesterday, after the Internet giant broke a court order suppressing the name of a man charged with murdering a British backpacker.

An Auckland court granted the man interim name suppression this month, but Google revealed his identity in an e-mail to subscribers of its "What's trending in New Zealand" service.

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 e-mail went out, Mr Little said that was not good enough.

"I put the ball back in their court," he told commercial radio yesterday. "If they choose to set up their algorithms and distribute news, they've got to take responsibility for that."

The case concerns the murder of British tourist Grace Millane, 22, whose body was found earlier this month just outside Auckland, resulting in a 26-year-old man being arrested and charged.

BALL BACK IN THEIR COURT

I put the ball back in their court... If they choose to set up their algorithms and distribute news, they've got to take responsibility for that.

JUSTICE MINISTER ANDREW LITTLE, on Google's leaking of a man's name in the Grace Millane case.

The case generated intense interest in New Zealand and Britain, where some media outlets have also named the accused, arguing the court order does not apply to them.

Mr 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 next year to assess their progress.

Mr Little 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 other's orders in each other's 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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2018, with the headline 'Google breaches gag order, names NZ murder accused'. Print Edition | Subscribe