Privacy watchdog, members of Congress slam FCC’s $25,000 fine as “mere slap on the wrist” for NSA linked search engine giant

Source: Steve Watson

Rights Group Demands Investigation Into Illegal Google Wiretapping Screen shot 2010 06 08 at 1.41.01 PM

A privacy rights groups has demanded a new investigation into Google’s collection of personal data from the wireless internet networks of Americans via by its “Street View” vehicles, noting that the practice violates wiretapping laws.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder this week, asking for the Department of Justice to open another investigation into the matter following an “inadequate” Federal Trade Commission investigation and a proposal by the Federal Communications Commission to fine the search engine giant just $25,000 for attempting to obstruct the probe.

The Commission found that Google impeded the investigation by “delaying its search for and production of responsive emails and other communications, by failing to identify employees, and by withholding verification of the completeness and accuracy of its submissions.” Marc Rotenberg, EPIC’s executive director, wrote.

“By the agency’s own admission, the investigation conducted was inadequate and did not address the applicability of federal wiretapping law to Google’s interception of emails, usernames, passwords, browsing histories, and other personal information.” Rotenberg noted.

POinting out that the FCC relied purely on Google’s own statements and did not even review the contents of the data intercepted by Google, Rotenberg added:

“Much of the information uncovered by the FCC’s investigation was redacted, and Google’s obstruction prevented the agency from determining the merits of the underlying substantive issues: whether Google’s interception of Wi-Fi communications violated the Wiretap Act,” Rotenberg argued. “Finally, the FCC ignored legal precedent holding that the contents of unencrypted Wi-Fi networks were protected by the Wiretap Act.”

EPIC also sent copies of its letter to several members of Congress, who have expressed support.

Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey, said that “[t]his fine is a mere slap on the wrist for Google,” and called for a more comprehensive investigation.

“Google’s Street View cars drove right over consumers’ personal privacy while cruising city streets and neighborhoods,” Markey said in a statement. “I am concerned that more needs to be done to fully investigate the company’s understanding of what happened when consumer data was collected without their knowledge or permission.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal noted that “Google’s interception and collection of private wireless data potentially violates the Wiretap Act or other federal statutes, and I believe the Justice Department and state attorneys general should fully investigate this matter.”

The FCC said that Google had not violated the federal Wiretap Act, despite a US federal court ruling that unencrypted Wi-Fi data and communications are not exempt from the protections of the Wiretap Act.

In addition, several other countries have found Google guilty of violating national privacy laws, following the data collection activity that dates back to 2007 and was exposed in May 2010.

As we have previously highlighted, Google has an intimate and secret relationship with the National Security Agency, as well as ties to the CIA going back to the company’s inception. Both Google and the agencies in question have refused to elaborate on the relationship, and the Department of Justice has actively worked to keep the information out of the public domain.