Congressman going after Google

Rep. Barrow worried about eavesdropping

U.S. Rep. John Barrow has sicced the feds on Big Google.


The congressman wants the Federal Communications Commission to probe Google's eavesdropping on private consumer Wi-Fi transmissions.

The Georgia Democrat and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., wrote the FCC on Tuesday about data collected by Google's Street View mapping program.

"After almost nine months since Google first admitted to collecting this data," their letter said, "we still don't have answers as to how this ... was allowed to take place and how many Americans were affected, let alone a credible assurance that it won't happen again."

Google Street View cars cruise around cities and snap photos that are posted online and integrated with Google Maps. Google has conceded vehicles it uses for mapping also scooped up the data from unsecured consumer Wi-Fi networks, but says they no longer do so.

Since then, overseas inquiries found that the transmissions included hundreds of thousands of communications, said Chris Cashman, Barrow spokesman.

Cashman said they included e-mail addresses, instant messages, URLs, user names and passwords, names, residential telephone numbers and addresses.

Among them, he added, was a list of the names of people suffering from medical conditions, with telephone numbers and addresses.

He said he didn't know the extent of such data gathering in Georgia and Chatham County.

The reason, he added, is that Google won't turn over data it collected to state attorneys general investigating the breach.

"But as Mr. Barrow has said before," Cashman added, "the fact that this breach was allowed to occur is an issue of concern for every single Internet user in the country."

However, he suggested an exercise (See "Has Big Google Been Watching You?") to help people "understand just how far reaching - and yet how local - this breach could be."

Barrow acknowledged that Google has discontinued the collections, but said that's not enough.

"As more and more personal information winds up on the Internet, we need to make sure that private data is as safe and secure as possible," he said. "That means ensuring that the companies handling this information are responsible and accountable.

"And Google owes the folks who use their service an explanation of how this security breach was allowed to take place and what steps they are taking to ensure something like this never happens again."

He credited Google with playing "an enormous role in advancing the Internet," but said the public should learn more about what happened.

Rogers agreed, saying previous inquiries "have not resulted in any action, leaving American consumers with little information about Google's conduct."

An FCC spokesman who declined to be named said he didn't know whether the commission had received the congressmen's letter.

But he said the agency has an "active investigation" concerning the matter that has been "ongoing for some time."

The spokesman declined to elaborate or say when the investigation might be concluded.

The Federal Trade Commission has said it is conducting a separate inquiry.

A Google spokesman, who also declined to be identified, responded only in general terms.

"As we have said before," he said "we are profoundly sorry for having mistakenly collected payload data from unencrypted networks."

As soon as Google realized what had happened, he said, it stopped collecting Wi-Fi data from Street View cars and informed "the authorities."

"We did not want and have never used the payload data in any of our products and services," the spokesman said.

"We want to delete this data as soon as possible and will continue to work with the authorities ... as well as to answer their further questions and concerns."

Chris Crawford, a spokesman for Rep. Jack Kingston, a Savannah Republican, said he couldn't reach Kingston on the House floor late Wednesday afternoon.

"Jack's a pretty staunch defender of the right to privacy," Crawford said, "but we haven't gotten into this fray to my knowledge."



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