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Consumer Watchdog Files FOIA Request Seeking All Documents In FCC’s Investigation Of Google Wi-Spy Scandal

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Wed, May 2, 2012 at 10:47 am

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Consumer Watchdog Files FOIA Request Seeking All Documents In FCC’s Investigation Of Google Wi-Spy Scandal

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today filed a Freedom Of Information Act Request with the Federal Communications Commission seeking all documents related to the Commission’s investigation of the Google Wi-Spy scandal.

So far only the FCC’s Notice of Apparent Liability For Forfeiture has been made public.  It ordered that Google pay $25,000 for willfully obstructing the FCC’s investigation into how Google’s Street View cars gathered “payload data” from private Wi-Fi networks.

“The FCC order gives an overview of what happened and shows that others including a senior manager knew – or should have known – about plans to gather messages from private Wi-Fi networks,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “The order makes it clear that Google stonewalled and was uncooperative.  That’s why the public needs to see all the documents that are related to the case.”

Click here to read Consumer Watchdog’s FOIA request.

“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,” said Simpson. “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 New York Times identified the engineer, known as “Engineer Doe” in the FCC order, as Marius Milner on Tuesday.  On Monday Consumer Watchdog said  “Engineer Doe” should be granted immunity from prosecution for his testimony before a Senate hearing.

The FCC order makes clear that as early as 2007 or 2008 Street View team members had wide access to Milner’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, Milner 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.

The FCC first released a highly censored version of its order on April 13, 2012.  Consumer Watchdog filed a FOIA request seeking an un-redacted version of the order.  The FCC then sent a letter to Google saying it would have 10 days to justify censoring the order.  Over the weekend Google released a version of the order that omitted only the names of people the FCC interviewed.  Consumer Watchdog has withdrawn the original FOIA request for an uncensored version of the order.

The largely un-redacted version that the Internet giant made available over the weekend 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.

The Wi-Spy scandal is still being investigated by a group of more than 30 state attorneys general.  Consumer Watchdog attorneys are counsel for the plaintiffs in a federal class action suit against Google in the Wi-Spy case.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 361 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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