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Press Release

Google WiSpying Hit Congress; National Security Data Could Have Been Gathered

CONTACT: , (310) 392-0522, ext. 317

Wed, Jul 7, 2010 at 4:42 pm

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Google WiSpying Hit Congress; National Security Data Could Have Been Gathered

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 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.

Read the letter to Harman here.

“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 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.

View the photos here.

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.

Read a report about the members’ networks here.

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 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.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 363 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.

Contact the author

13 Responses to “Google WiSpying Hit Congress; National Security Data Could Have Been Gathered”

  1. Rodney Says:

    Are you a complete idiot? Yes, I am sure that members of congress are communicating over open networks about national security issues. And if they are then I think there is a bigger issue and it has nothing to do with Google. I am sure if Google wanted information there are many cheaper and easier ways for them to get it than driving around getting tiny packets of data.

  2. Ralph Says:

    So what if they’ve been collecting information on congress critters? They are the ultimate in expendability, because they are totally fricking useless to citizens and the country, as they are owned by special interests.
    If they exposed national security information to Google, then that is not Google’s problem. If politicians were careless with classified information, they should go to jail, just like any one else who has access and is careless. Google is just like the publishers of the Pentagon Papers back in Vietnam era.
    What the congress critters are really afraid of is getting caught doing their business as usual: having an affair; taking a bribe; boinking some one underage; or using illegal drugs after publicly denouncing them.

  3. Taylor Says:

    Why are the people of the United States so ready to defend Google? Easy, Google gets away with censorship -youtube- so can they, Google gets away with sniffing out computer communications across the US for years, oh yeah they didn’t know and are sorry, -shugs- then so can everyone else :) If the government has done what Google has done, there would be hell to pay, no? If Google can censor and hack, well good deal so can we -smiles-

  4. Taylor Says:

    In case no one understands when I say Google blocks, I mean the United States with youtube videos and channels, here’s an example this means no American Law Enforcement or Military across the US has access to these videos or comments, Now what American wouldn’t enjoy the fact that they can BLOCK American LE :)


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