Google WiFi snooping hit lawmakers' homes but who's to blame?

Google WiFi snooping hit lawmakers' homes but who's to blame?

Summary: Google's unintentional WiFi data collection may have tapped information from some members of Congress - but if those lawmakers had unsecured networks at home, doesn't that suggest they're a bigger part of the problem?

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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?

Topics: Google, Mobility, Networking, Wi-Fi

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32 comments
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  • This asinine argument again?

    Let's use an analogy. You leave all your belongings on the front yard. Someone comes by and takes them.

    By your definition, you are the guilty party, not the person who took your belonging, because you didn't keep them in a locked house.

    Whether or not your wifi is locked or open does not change the fact that logging into it and grabbing data is unethical and probably illegal.
    frgough
    • RE: Google WiFi snooping hit lawmakers' homes but who's to blame?

      @frgough

      Stealing someone's belongings is as as wrong as the analogy.

      If you leave your belongings on the front yard you are inviting crime. Don't be surprised when it gleefully arrives. The thief is guilty of a crime (theft), and you helped them commit it. Maybe not illegal on your part, but certainly stupid.

      Now, when your belongings are taken, you no longer have access to them, but the thief does. In the case of wireless transmissions, both you and the thief retain a copy. If I am parked in the street and you throw a piece of paper with your bank account details into my car, both of us have the information available to us. That would be a pretty silly thing for you to do. This is a closer analogy than the "if I leave my belongings and you take them" one - blasting out your wireless data is analogous to giving me the piece of paper.

      In this event, if I do nothing with the information then you are safe despite your insecure activity. But if I choose to do bad things with it, two things may have happened. I have probably broken some law, and you are probably going to get hurt.

      I agree that grabbing unsecured data that doesn't belong to you is unethical, but as a victim that's not much consolation when you find your bank account emptied due to an act of stupidity on your own part.
      magcomment
    • RE: Google WiFi snooping hit lawmakers' homes but who's to blame?

      @frgough Why on Earth would anyone leave all of his/her belongings on the front yard? If someone comes by and steals everything, they've certainly done something illegal. But the person who left them on the lawn definitely should share in some of the blame...

      Nice analogy...
      SamDiaz
      • This mentality is endemic throughout the world today.

        The idea that the victim somehow shares in culpability because he didn't take proper precautions. I take offense at the concept of "inviting" theft. Maybe if we quit saying the thief was encouraged and instead slap the SOB behind bars the problem would start to go away.
        frgough
      • Think think think....

        @frgough<br><br>I have to agree with you that the average victim should not be blamed; however, I disagree with you vehemently that members of the US Congress with access to sensitive data do not share the blame. Depending on the circumstances and data, they not only share the blame but they likely broke the law as well. Regardless, IF (and it's a very big IF) they were accessing or sending classified data over any unsecured network, they would also be guilty of, in my IANAL opinion, reckless disregard for national security and gross negligence. In the above cases they may (and perhaps should) share in criminal charges.<br><br>Leaving a diamond ring on the front lawn may be stupid (or more likely absent-minded) but it would not cause injury to national security, is not negligent, nor reckless, nor illegal. This is a case of appropriately blaming two guilty parties.
        Mr. Copro Encephalic to You
    • RE: Google WiFi snooping hit lawmakers' homes but who's to blame?

      @frgough
      No tangible goods were stolen. Wifi frequencies are open for public use, so your analogy is still less accurate than somebody leaving their belongings in the middle of a public street and somebody came up and took them.

      A better analogy would be:
      You were transmitting communications over a public radio channel, and others people happened to hear it.
      raynebc@...
      • Nope.

        A better analogy would be, someone is communicating over a radio that requires an active effort to connect to and eavesdrop on and you did so. In which case, you've violated a bunch of wiretapping laws.

        More Blame the Victim.
        frgough
      • Not just hear it...

        @raynebc@...

        ...but RECORD it, using highly sophisticated snooping equipment. That is a significant difference. If you are having a conversation in your front yard and the neighbor across the street is recording you with a parabolic mic, would you not be upset?
        itpro_z
    • Foolish does not equal culpable.

      a relatively simple concept people cannot seem to wrap their brains around. Well, actually, I think they comprehend it completely. It's just that a lot of folks are dishonest in their hearts today and tell themselves little lies about it to ease their conscience. Lies like: well, they were asking for it, so I'm justified.
      frgough
  • Simple

    If it is important to you, lock it up or lose it.
    MoeFugger
  • RE: Google WiFi snooping hit lawmakers' homes but who's to blame?

    If some sort of national security issue was compromised both
    Google and the member of Congrees are to blame.
    rleavitt@...
  • RE: Google WiFi snooping hit lawmakers' homes but who's to blame?

    The fact is that a lot of our lawmakers are ignoramuses regarding technology issues. No wonder we have so many bad laws regarding technology.
    johnupton2002@...
  • RE: Google WiFi snooping hit lawmakers' homes but who's to blame?

    "After all, Google collected that data unintentionally". That's what they say, but I won't take their word for it. People have a tendency to minimize every bad thing that google does these days. Let's get to basics: Google STOLE personal datas.
    atari_z
    • Agreed

      This explanation is offensive. You don't just inadvertently connect to open wifi spots and "happen" pull down and store packets.

      Even an unprotected wifi requires a deliberate action to join them. Even if Google had their computers set to "automatically connect to wifi" someone deliberately threw that switch, or deliberately DIDN'T turn it off.
      frgough
      • Google GPS

        @frgough When you are using an iPod with GPS, they use Wifi to say where you are. To do this, Google (maps) must know where the wifi router that you're connected to is. So they scan for MAC address, this is ok, but the guy who did the program is plain stupid and it collected all data sent from routers instead of just MAC address.
        nelsoon
  • The lawmakers ARE actually the criminals

    Se below. Those in possession of classified Data are REQUIRED to safeguard it. See paragraph "C" below. This is from CFR 32

    Title 32: National Defense
    PART 2001?CLASSIFIED NATIONAL SECURITY INFORMATION
    Subpart E?Safeguarding


    Browse Previous | Browse Next


    ? 2001.41 Responsibilities of holders.
    Authorized persons who have access to classified information are responsible for:

    (a) Protecting it from persons without authorized access to that information, to include securing it in approved equipment or facilities whenever it is not under the direct control of an authorized person;

    (b) Meeting safeguarding requirements prescribed by the agency head; and

    (c) Ensuring that classified information is not communicated over unsecured voice or data circuits, in public conveyances or places, or in any other manner that permits interception by unauthorized persons.
    aaronfranko
  • Google is run by idots and thieves

    First they steal the iPhone design (Apple had to sue them and their partners) then they steal data from you and your neighbors. Then they like, it was an innocent accident -- we're not evil... honest. I can't believe their are people still fooled by them.
    iPad-awan
  • RE: Google WiFi snooping hit lawmakers' homes but who's to blame?

    Personally I think those members of congress who were using an unsecured wifi connection should be made public.

    Also Aaronfranko pointed out the regulations are clear and certainly not new. Think of it this way - Your congressman grabs a quick bite on the way home - at say a McDonnalds bringing with him/her classified documents so they would not be left unattended in the car. Now lets say they leave the briefcase with those documents in it on the table after they have finished eating and drove off.

    In this day and age using an unencripted wifi connection is almost as blatent an act of stupidity as the analogy I put before you.

    as was also pointed out Wifi frequencies are open for public use. So here is another analogy you make a recording of yourself doing something stupid and you post it to youtube.... it is out there for public consumption due to your own imbacilic behavior .
    jstevens@...
  • Lawmakers are REQUIRED to safeguard data.

    See paragraph C below...<br><br>Title 32: National Defense<br>PART 2001CLASSIFIED NATIONAL SECURITY INFORMATION <br>Subpart ESafeguarding <br><br><br> 2001.41 Responsibilities of holders.<br>Authorized persons who have access to classified information are responsible for:<br><br>(a) Protecting it from persons without authorized access to that information, to include securing it in approved equipment or facilities whenever it is not under the direct control of an authorized person;<br><br>(b) Meeting safeguarding requirements prescribed by the agency head; and<br><br>(c) Ensuring that classified information is not communicated over unsecured voice or data circuits, in public conveyances or places, or in any other manner that permits interception by unauthorized persons.

    (sorry for the double post but it showed my first was marked as Spam).
    aaronfranko
    • Somehow I'm less than comforted by this notion

      @aaronfranko
      [i]Lawmakers are REQUIRED to safeguard data. [/i]

      Aren't you, honestly?

      Oh let me count the ways... lol

      @SamDiaz
      [i]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? [/i]

      Does a duck quack? Are there any reasons to think better, given all we've seen from both parties?

      QUACK QUACK
      klumper