Canceled FCC Probe Prompts Outcry

By April 18, 2012

Image: Department of Justice

A mild fine levied against Google for obstructing an investigation into wireless data collection practices has been met by an outcry from privacy advocates and a prominent lawmaker.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the Electronic Privacy Information Center rebuked the FCC for closing the case, and called for an official investigation.

“Given the inadequacy of the FCC’s investigation and the law enforcement responsibilities of the Attorney General, EPIC urges the Department of Justice to investigate Google’s collection of Wi-Fi data from residential Wi-Fi networks,” reads the letter, which is signed by EPIC executive director Marc Rotenberg.

The FCC had been investigating the company for its practices of collecting wireless data using the fleet of cars that capture panoramic “Street View” photographs, which are available through Google Maps and Google Earth. Following the inquiry, it closed the case and fined Google $25,000 – the maximum possible charge – for impeding investigation, including refusing to identify employees involved or responsible.

“Rather than review the contents of payload data intercepted by Google in the United States, the FCC relied on Google’s own statements,” reads the letter. “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 issue: whether Google’s interception of Wi-Fi communications violated the Wiretap Act.”

And United States representative Edward Markey, from Massachusetts, expressed concern over wardriving case, and promised to actively monitor the story going forward.

“Google’s Street View cars drove right over consumers’ personal privacy while cruising city streets and neighborhoods,” he 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. This fine is a mere slap on the wrist for Google.”

The outcry comes at a delicate time for Google, which has taken an active role in the past year fighting legislation that would, in the company’s estimation, threaten the open web. Google co-founder Sergey Brin spoke out this week against oppressive government and corporate interests that he sees as threatening innovation and online rights.

Image: Department of Justice