New Zealand's privacy commissioner says it would be of "considerable concern" to the country's judiciary and Parliament if any organisation was unwilling to follow court orders.

The statement from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner comes after the Herald today reported a discontent in New Zealand's legal fraternity over Google "thumbing its nose" at court orders to remove suppressed content from its online searches.

A spokesman for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner continued that the watchdog can investigate specific privacy complaints from individuals "and we investigate on a case-by-case basis".

"If any organisation demonstrated an unwillingness to follow the orders of New Zealand's courts, that would be of considerable concern to the judiciary and Parliament," the statement said.


The Times of London also found Google internet users were able to identify rape victims whose anonymity is protected by law.

The UK newspaper's investigation discovered Google's automated search functions and its algorithm would find names associated with a search. The links were often made after people illegally published the identities of those in cases on social media.

The same issues were found for New Zealand cases when the Herald conducted Google searches of its own.

Justice and Courts Minister Andrew Little told the Herald the findings were concerning and would seek advice before commenting further.

The breach of court orders had the potential to infringe on statutory and fair trial rights and due process, said human rights and privacy lawyer Michael Bott.

He said Google was "thumbing its nose" and "expressing a high-degree of arrogance" at court orders.

"In a liberal democracy we have the rule of law. If Google doesn't follow take-down orders on the basis that it's an international company based in California, well that may be true, but it also ignores the reality of the internet," he said.

"It's a direct attack on the sovereignty of our courts and there has to be a way to address that."


A Google spokesman told the Herald earlier: "We don't allow these kinds of autocomplete predictions or related searches that violate laws or our own policies and we have removed examples we've been made aware of.

"We recently expanded our removals policy to cover predictions which disparage victims of violence and atrocities, and we encourage people to send us feedback about any sensitive or bad predictions."

He said Google NZ was bound by New Zealand laws but Google LLC was not.

"Google LLC prefers for news publishers to make their own decisions about whether their content should be available online," he said.

Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson's view of the issue. Cartoon / Rod Emmerson
Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson's view of the issue. Cartoon / Rod Emmerson

In March, Privacy Commissioner John Edwards also accused Facebook of breaching New Zealand's Privacy Act - leading to a war of words between Edwards and the social network.

Edwards said Facebook had refused a New Zealand man access to personal information which was held on several Facebook accounts.

Facebook claimed it wasn't bound by New Zealand's privacy laws and didn't have to comply with a request from his office to take a look at the disputed information, Edwards said.

However, the social media company said Edwards had made a "broad and intrusive" request for private data, and that the company was protecting its users.

A proposed new law for contempt, to set boundaries for what can and can't be said by the media, including on social media, and about defendants, trials and judges will also be examined by Parliament.

A member of the judiciary would not comment on the issue to the Herald at this time.