Google Steet View Privacy Controversy Touches Congress

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Consumer Watchdog accuses Google
of breaching the home WiFi networks of prominent lawmakers as part of
its Google Street View snafu. To bolster its point, the group conducted
some so-called wardriving to see if it could find unencrypted
networks. In doing so, however, some say Consumer Watchdog went too

Google has fired back at Consumer Watchdog’s criticism that the
company accidentally snooped on the personal WiFi networks of several
members of Congress.

In May, Google admitted that it had accidentally used code, written
for a WiFi project, which caused the Google Street View vehicles used to
photograph streets and terrain to collect SSID (service set
identifier) data, MAC (media access control) addresses and “payload
data” from unprotected WiFi networks. The company has since removed the

Now Consumer
a longstanding critic of Google, is arguing that the
company’s actions could have recorded communications of members of
Congress involved in national security issues. To get this information (PDF), Consumer Watchdog
checked some members of Congress’ networks during the past week to see
if they were vulnerable to having been snooped by Google.

Of the five residences the Consumer Watchdog checked, Rep. Jane
Harman, chair of the Intelligence Subcommittee of the Homeland Security
Committee, had a clearly identifiable and vulnerable network, while the
other four had vulnerable networks in their vicinity that may also
belong to the members of Congress, the group said.

Consumer Watchdog has written to Harman and 18 other members of the
House Energy and Commerce Committee whose homes are pictured on Google
Street View about the issue, and is calling for immediate hearings.

In a statement, Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court called
Google’s actions “the most massive example of wire-tapping in American

Court said, “Whether it’s compromising government secrets or our
personal financial information, Google’s unprecedented WiSpying
threatens the security of the American people and Congress owes
Americans action.”

However, Berin Szoka, senior fellow at the Progress & Freedom
Foundation, countered that the group was doing what it accused Google of

“[Consumer Watchdog] didn’t do anything wrong in how they conducted
their tests: Like Google, they were only observing information that
anyone could have observed with a WiFi device from the street,” Szoka blogged. “But that’s precisely what makes
their charges of ‘WiSpying’ so hypocritical and silly. Indeed, they
went well beyond what Google did in actually publishing the names of
Rep. Harman’s unsecured networks—which privacy watchdogs would never
have forgiven Google had Google actually done that.”

What Consumer Watchdog did was not a useful contribution to
what should be a broader online privacy debate, said Ed Black, CEO of
the Computer & Communications Industry Association.

“They detected unsecured WiFi networks that anyone, including
neighbors, can pick up,” Black said in a statement. “It proves nothing
about what, if anything, a person or company like Google might have
done to intercept and record data. To follow that same logic, the fact
that everyone’s Internet access provider has 24/7 access to all of their
personal and business online activities, transactions, messages and
data proves nothing about what the IAPs are actually doing to
intercept, record, use or share that information.”

A Google spokesperson told eWEEK the company already admitted it was a
mistake to include the code, but that the company did nothing illegal.

“We’re continuing to work with the relevant authorities to answer
their questions and concerns,” the spokesperson said.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

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