WASHINGTON, D.C. – Google’s WiSpy snooping could have sucked up and recorded communications from members of Congress, some of whom are involved in national security issues, an investigation by Consumer Watchdog’s InsideGoogle.com has found.
Rep. Jane Harman, D-CA, a current member of the Homeland Security Committee and former member of the Intelligence Committee has at least one wireless network in her Washington, D.C., home that could have been breached by Google, Consumer Watchdog said.
The consumer group has written Harman and 18 other members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee whose homes are pictured on Google’s Street View which suggest their WiFi networks were scanned, and called for immediate hearings.
“This is the most massive example of wire tapping in American history and even members of Congress do not appear to be immune,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, which published the results on its Insidegoogle.com website. “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.”
Over the last week, to gauge the potential threat posed by Google’s WiSpy activities, the nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group “sniffed” some Congress members’ networks to see if they were vulnerable to the Internet giant, but scrupulously avoided gathering any communications. The investigation focused on a handful of members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over Internet issues.
Of the five residences the consumer group checked, one, Harman’s, had a clearly identifiable and vulnerable network. The other four residences had vulnerable networks in the vicinity that may belong to the members of Congress.
Besides Harman’s unencrypted network, Consumer Watchdog found vulnerable networks near the Washington residences of Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA; Ed Markey, D-MA; John Dingell, D-MI and Rick Boucher, D-VA that could have been breached by Google. The networks could not be definitively tied to the Congressmen’s residences, however.
“It’s clear there are members of Congress whose networks could have been breached,” said John M. Simpson, consumer advocate. “We call on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to hold hearings and demand answers about exactly what information Google has in its servers. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt should testify under oath.”
Google now admits that its Street View cars snooped on private WiFi networks as they prowled streets in thirty countries photographing people’s homes over the last three years. The company acknowledges it recorded communications it picked up from unencrypted WiFi networks.
As part of the call for the House Energy and Commerce Committee to investigate the extent and ramifications of the Internet giant’s WiSpying, Consumer Watchdog checked whether Google’s Street View cars had photographed members’ residences. The nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest group has posted 19 photos of Congressional members’ Street View photos on its Inside Google website. If a residence is pictured, it means Google likely gathered data about wireless networks at that location.
In addition, Consumer Watchdog sent technicians with equipment similar to that used by Google to five members’ homes depicted on Street View to see if there were open WiFi networks that Google could have tapped into and recorded communications. Unlike Google, Consumer Watchdog did not record any network communications, so-called “payload data.” It only established that Google could have done so.
In a letter to Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Waxman, Court and Simpson wrote:
“We write to warn you that with commonplace technologies, the Internet and email activity at the homes of Members of Congress can easily be spied upon. We are sure of this because Google recently admitted it has collected large quantities of Internet data from houses all over the United States. One of these houses may have been yours. We know this because we recently performed a simulation of Google’s operation and sent “packet sniffers” to the neighborhoods of several Members. In several locations we found unencrypted networks, including in the vicinity of your residence in Washington, DC. Of course, we did not examine or store any information other than basic information about the networks, but we can’t say the same about Google.
“Attached and available on our InsideGoogle.org web site are pictures of your residence taken by Google Street View cars. We know now that Google not only took pictures of your home, the company also attempted to record your wireless Internet data. We call on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to investigate and hold hearings on these privacy invasions by Google.”
Read the letter here.
Google’s efforts to influence Washington have soared recently. In the first quarter of this year Google increased its lobbying spending by a whopping 57 percent over the previous year as it paid $1.3 million to influence federal lawmakers and regulators. It spent $4.03 million on lobbying in 2009, according to disclosure forms filed with the Senate Office of Public Affairs.
Its political action committee, Google Inc. NetPAC, has already given $175,400 to federal candidates this year, according to The Center for Responsive Politics. That compares with only $31,000 for the entire 2006 election cycle.