Tech giant Google has been accused of “flipping the bird” at New Zealand laws by refusing to change company policy after it broke suppression orders related to the murder case of British backpacker Grace Millane.
Last December, a 27-year-old Auckland man appeared in the city’s high court charged with murdering Millane. His name was suppressed but it appeared in Google’s “what’s trending in New Zealand” email that went out to thousands of subscribers.
Millane, 22, from Essex, vanished in Auckland in December. Her body was later found in the Waitākere Ranges, west of the city.
Google executives met with New Zealand justice minister Andrew Little in Wellington to discuss the suppression breach, and assured the minister and prime minister Jacinda Ardern the issue would be dealt with.
However, when justice officials followed up with Google in March and again this week, the company said it had no plans to make changes.
“We have looked at our systems and it appears that last year’s situation was relatively unique as it was a high-profile case involving a person from overseas, which was extensively reported by overseas media,” the email read.
Young also said that the company respected New Zealand law and was “engaging with local stakeholders” on the matter.
In response, Little said that Google appeared to be “flipping the bird” by flouting the country’s rule of law.
“Google’s contempt for New Zealand law, and for Grace Millane’s family is unacceptable, and I will now be considering my options,” he said.
“In the end, Google is effectively acting as a publisher and publishing material that is under suppression orders in New Zealand, and they cannot and should not be allowed to get away with that.”
Ardern told media on Wednesday that Google’s response had been “disappointing”.
“These are our own domestic laws and we do have an expectation they be upheld. So, the response has been disappointing. Now we need to consider the what the next steps will be for New Zealand.”
It is not clear what Little’s options are but earlier this year the New Zealand government announced it was exploring how it could make digital giants like Facebook and Google pay more tax on income made within the country.
“Some companies can do significant business in New Zealand without being taxed for the income they earn,” Ardern said at the time.
“This is not fair, and this is not sustainable.”
Little has previously said that the country cannot surrender the effective administration of justice to “algorithms and machines”.
A Google spokesperson told the Guardian: “Google respects New Zealand law and understands the sensitivity around this issue. When we receive valid court orders, including suppression orders, we review and respond appropriately.”