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L.A. delays consideration of Google email plan

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Wed, Jul 22, 2009 at 4:05 pm

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Consideration of a proposal to move the City of Los Angles’ email and other computer applications to a system run by Internet giant Google was postponed this week.

A report from the City Administrative Officer of the $7.25 million proposal was to have been discussed at City Council’s Information Technology and General Services committee meeting Tuesday.  The plan would move email and many other  applications from city-owned and controlled computers to Google servers.  The servers would be accessed via the Internet. Such a system is often called "cloud computing."

With two committee members — Councilman Bernard Parks and Councilman Herbert Wesson — absent, Chairman Tony Cardenas announced the issue would be held over for two weeks.

The controversial plan envisions moving the city’s 30,000 email users to Google servers, along with many documents. The Los Angeles Police Department has expressed concerns about security if the city makes the move. Both Tim Riley, chief of the LAPD Information & Communications Services Bureau and his boss, Assistant Chief Sharon Papa were there to answer questions.

Meanwhile, in a letter to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum warned about the plan. She wrote:

"We believe that the City of Los Angeles has rushed into this without enough careful consideration of all of the consequences, and without enough attention to the details of protecting the privacy of the data contractually. We urge the City of Los Angeles to conduct a thorough analysis and risk assessment of all privacy and other confidentiality impacts that may occur, and we urge the City to protect its residents and itself from the many potential unintended consequences."

A letter to the committee from Beth Givens of the Privacy Rights Clearing House also expressed concerns. She asked:

  •  "Is a cloud environment going to provide sufficient protection for such sensitive information?  
  • "Does the City’s stewardship role in regard to personal information preclude movement of personal information to a cloud environment?"

She urged that the City consider "a rigorous privacy and security impact assessment " about the cloud computing proposal including  "a thorough risk analysis."

I had planned to testify that "rushing headlong onto Google’s cloud will only ensure stormy weather in Los Angeles."

One thing is certain, most of us there on Tuesday will be back in two weeks.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 362 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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