Google’s WiSpy scandal spreads to US Congress

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.

Consumer Watchdog’s Insidegoogle.com has found Google may have recorded communications from members of Congress as part of their streetview project. The group specifically mentions Rep. Jane Harman, D-CA, chair of the Intelligence Subcommittee 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.

The group 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.

“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.”

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 has admitted 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 most likely gathered data about wireless networks at that location.

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.

Consumer Watchdog, formerly the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, DC and Santa Monica, Ca. Consumer Watchdog’s website is www.consumerwatchdog.org. Visit the Google Privacy and Accountability Project website: http://insidegoogle.com/ for more information.

Source: Consumer Watchdog

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