Yesterday I wrote Reps. Edolphus Towns (D-NY) and Darryl Issa (R-CA), the chair and ranking member of the House Government Oversight Committee, urging a thorough investigation of both Google Street View and the FTC’s recent conduct during its investigation of the program. Click here for a 6-page pdf of the letter that includes additional background on Google’s extensive and close lobbying connections with the Obama Administration.
As part of Google’s “Street View” operation, fleets of specially outfitted cars drove through multiple countries collecting photos, video and, as Google now admits, sensitive personal information from WiFi connections. Yet in late October, the Federal Trade Commission abruptly ended its investigation of “Street View” – a decision that came on the heels not only of Google’s admission that its surveillance was much more serious than previously disclosed but only days after a $30,000-a-head fundraiser for President Obama at the home of a Google executive.
The FTC’s decision came only four days after Google admitted a key fact it had long denied: that “Street View” did capture URLs, e-mails and passwords. In addition to Google’s credibility being shredded, this news should raise serious questions about eavesdropping, wiretapping and consumer protection.
With the FTC’s incredible decision not to investigate, consumers must turn to Congress to get to the bottom of these serious privacy violations.
The FTC’s decision is especially puzzling when compared to the approximately 38 state Attorneys General who are continuing their investigations into the company. Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, now an incoming Democratic Senator, said after Google’s alarming admission, “Google’s story has changed during the course of our multistate investigation — demonstrating the need for sustained scrutiny.”
Few policy areas have become as urgently in need of federal oversight in recent years as the protection of personal privacy online. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), ranking member of the House Commerce Committee, has already announced his intention to make privacy a key focus of the Committee next year.
Data theft is growing and by one metric, a person who only has information about gender, zip code and date of birth, can correctly identify an individual with 87 percent certainty.
The growing scandal over Google’s “Street View” operations involves some of the most serious issues of privacy, wiretapping, the close relationship between Google and the Obama Administration and possibly even campaign finance.