'Not a great deal I can do' to enforce suppression laws on Google, says Andrew Little after meeting with tech giant

There is concern Google's breach of suppression could affect the trial of the man accused of killing British traveller Grace Millane after his name was revealed to subscribers in an emailed news alert.

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The Justice Minister spoke about his meeting with Google, after the internet giant emailed the name of the man accused of killing Grace Millane to subscribers. Source: Breakfast

Justice Minister Andrew Little joined TVNZ's Breakfast this morning to discuss his meeting with the tech giant yesterday.

"Look, they accepted the issue was a serious one and that they didn't want to be on the wrong side of the issue. We had a very good and constructive discussion," he said.

"The upshot was that they agreed that we'd go and have a look at what they could do to prevent this from happening again. We talked a bit about the way their algorithms work; how they pick up news; the basis in which they end up publishing into New Zealand through their email accounts and sent it to me.

"There's probably something they can do about that, but in the end, I said, 'Look, it’s an ethical question'. It's not about coming after them with all the books – they choose to publish here, it's a sort of commercial issue for them, they've got to play by our rules, as they do in every other country."

He said he was unable to discuss how many people received the email news alert, with the tech giant saying the information was "confidential."

"I respect the commercial confidentiality – I respect that... It's numbers, and it's significant and it's based on the way news is published by them into a country like New Zealand is based on the number of search queries they get".

"In the media, there have been different stories about the numbers involved. [Google] said the numbers, they said please keep this in confidence, which I'm happy to do."

Mr Little said there is "not a great deal" he can do to punish Google for the breach of suppression orders, saying, "It's really up to the court or the police to decide whether they're going to prosecute, and look, there might be issues because they'll say the server was overseas, so it makes it difficult to enforce the law, and that’s why I said, ‘Look, we could go down the legal track and make everything difficult for us, but the reality is, this is an ethical issue. You choose to publish here, these are systems you control, but we've got laws that have to be complied with here’ and they should be complying with those laws'.

"I think the issue is, if you’re a New Zealand-based journalist and you’re doing a story about a court matter, you check whether there are any suppression orders over it, and they should not be left off the hook just because they happen to be publishing from overseas.

"From my point of view as Minister of Justice, I’ve got to preserve the integrity of our justice system and the orders that the judges hand down, because that – in this case, it's about fair trial rights, which is not just about a question for the offender, it's about the victim as well, so we had to talk about all those principles."

Mr Little says he will meet with Google representatives about the issue early next year.

"They accept the seriousness of the issue. It's not just about New Zealand, it's about other countries as well. We know that Australia's had a similiar case just in the last week or so – there’ll be other countries that are interested in this."

He said he would support regulations on the tech giant.

"I just think that the ability – or the right of New Zealand is to enforce the orders of its courts and other jurisdictions, where there's been a breach of suppression orders."