Google's Street View cars are hitting the road again in four countries - Ireland, Norway, South Africa and Sweden - after being parked for a few months. You'll recall that the company came under fire when it announced that it had inadvertently been collecting data from unsecured WiFi networks as those Street View cars passed by.
Now comes news that at least four members of the U.S. Congress, some of whom are involved in national security issues, may have had their data collected as Google's Street View cars drove past their homes. In a letter, consumerwatchdog.org cites the findings from its own investigation and warns those members of Congress that "Google's practice directly affects you." The site writes in its letter (PDF):
A Street View picture of your home means Google also tried to tap into your personal WiFi networks, likely in violation of federal wire tapping laws. If your wireless system was unencrypted, Google may have recorded your electronic communications with your colleagues, staff, families and friends. Potential state secrets remain in the custody of Google’s servers. In addition, as mentioned above, our own limited investigation confirmed that the home networks of some senior members of your committee whose houses appear on Street View are indeed vulnerable to the type of signal sensing equipment used by Google. This leaves little question that Google is currently in possession of sensitive data from the information networks used by members of Congress in their residences. Because of your position, we believe this is not just an invasion of privacy but an unwarranted intrusion by Google into legislative branch matters. In our view, you have the right to demand that Google disclose to you any information it has collected regarding your home wireless networks.
It's a good thing that ConsumerWatchdog is just expressing its own view here because its argument has some holes.
First, of course, is that it's making a huge leap when it says that an appearance on Street View "leaves little question that Google is currently in possession of sensitive data..." ConsumerWatchdog already admitted to a "limited investigation" of its own so it's unclear how it can suggest that there's "little question" about what Google has and doesn't. There's a big huge massive "if" there and that's the "if your wireless system was unencrypted."
Second, and more importantly" is that big "if." If a member of the U.S. Congress is accessing national security information from an unencrypted WiFi network at his or her home, doesn't that suggest some irresponsible actions by the lawmaker, as well as Google?
Google already has taken responsibility for the WiFi data collection but what about those who continue to operate unsecured WiFi networks at home? How long has WiFi been around now? How long have the warnings about securing those networks been out there? Is there any excuse for anyone - especially a member of Congress - to have an unsecured wireless network?
If some sort of national security issue was compromised by Google's WiFi data collection, maybe we're directing blame at the wrong side. After all, Google collected that data unintentionally. Who's to say that some bad guys couldn't have done the same, intentionally looking for security data?
After all, if members of Congress with access to information about national security are running unsecured WiFi networks at home, doesn't that suggest that the those lawmakers - not Google - are the bigger problem?