Consumer Watchdog Calls For Senate Hearing on Google Wi-Spy Scandal

Urges ‘Engineer Doe’ Be Given Immunity For Testifying About His Role

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today called for a Senate hearing into the Google Wi-Spy scandal and urged that a key figure known in a Federal Communications Commission report as “Engineer Doe” be granted immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony.

Newly released un-redacted FCC documents show that many people at Google knew – or should have known – about Engineer Doe’s plans to intercept Wi-Fi data.  The FCC also said the Internet giant “willfully and repeatedly violated Commission orders to produce certain information and documents.”

In a letter to Sen. Al Franken, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, the nonprofit, nonpartisan group also said that Google CEO Larry Page should be required testify Google CEO Page and ask him to explain the corporate culture that allowed Wi-Spy to happen.

“I urge your Subcommittee to subpoena the engineer, identified in the FCC order as Engineer Doe, and grant him immunity for his testimony,” wrote John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project director. “Immunity from prosecution for his testimony is a small price to pay so the American people can finally understand what actually transpired.”

Click here to read the letter to Sen. Franken.

The FCC’s Notice of Apparent Liability For Forfeiture shows a troubling a portrait of a company where an engineer could run wild with software code that violates the privacy of tens of millions people worldwide, but the corporate culture of “Engineers First” prevented corporate counsel or other engineers from stopping the privacy violations, Consumer Watchdog said.

Google released the un-redacted FCC order over the weekend.  The company released the document after Consumer Watchdog filed a Freedom of Information Act request for an uncensored version with the FCC.

“Google is paying a $25,000 fine for its noncompliance and is trying to portray the FCC order as exonerating the company.  That is not the case at all,” Simpson wrote. “The FCC order shows that substantial questions about the Wi-Spy scandal remain unanswered and that is largely because the engineer responsible for writing the code that gathered payload data invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.”

The letter continued:

“As the FCC order reveals, as early as 2007 or 2008 Street View team members had wide access to Engineer Doe’s design document and code in which the plan to intercept ‘payload data’ was spelled out.  One engineer reviewed the code line by line, five engineers pushed the code into Street View cars and, according to the FCC, Engineer Doe specifically told two engineers working on the project, including a senior manager about collecting ‘payload data.’  Nonetheless, they all claim they did not learn payload data was being collected until April or May 2010.  There is no believable explanation for this. Clearly the Street View team knew or should have known that payload data was being intercepted.”

Consumer Watchdog attorneys are lawyers in a federal class action suit against Google in the Wi-Spy case.


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Published by John M. Simpson

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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