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LA Council Insists On Added Security Breach Penalty As It Oks Move To Google’s ‘Cloud’

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Tue, Oct 27, 2009 at 3:25 pm

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Project Demands Close Monitoring To Guarantee Citizen’s Privacy Consumer Watchdog Says

Los Angeles, CA — The Los Angeles City Council voted today to move the city’s 30,000 email users to a system provided by Google, but only after a provision that the city be compensated if there is security breach in the data held on Google’s servers.

Consumer Watchdog had said that the security provisions for the Google “cloud computing” system for email and other applications remained untested and opposed the $7.25 million contract. However, the nonpartisan, nonpartisan consumer group had argued that if the contact were approved, it should contain a provision requiring “liquidated damages” or a payment in the event of a security breach.  Council voted to add the penalty provision 9-3.

“Los Angeles residents cannot be sure the city’s confidential or sensitive data will be secure,” said John M. Simpson, consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog, “but at least they know there will be a penalty if security is compromised. It’s essential that this project be closely watched to ensure that Google keeps its promises. Google’s latest mantra, ‘Trust us, security matters’ is not a real guarantee of anything.”

Key to the plan for LA’s system is Google’s “Government Cloud,” an Internet-based system that is intended to serve Federal, State and Local governments. While the “Government Cloud” has been announced, it has not be completed.  Google has said it plans to seek Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certification for it, but it is unclear if, or when such certification might happen.

“The right way to have done this, is to have insisted that Google demonstrate the Government Cloud and its security and privacy measures before committing to use it,” said Simpson. “Would any of the Council members buy a car without test driving it? They’ve just voted to adopt a system that hasn’t even been built.”

The $7.25 million contract is actually with Computer Sciences Corp., which will manage the switchover to Google’s system.  The Terms of Service agreement with Google is merely an appendix to the main contract, which may make it more difficult to hold Google responsible for any shortcomings in the system, Consumer Watchdog said.

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Consumer Watchdog, formerly the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, DC and Santa Monica, CA.  Our website is: www.ConsumerWatchdog.org.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 351 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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