Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, today sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder expressing concern over recent revelations that Google may have misled Congress, Federal regulators, and the American public after it intercepted and collected private consumer Internet communications that were transmitted over Wi-Fi networks. In his letter, Congressman Pallone urged Mr. Holder to consider re-opening the Department of Justice's investigation into the Google "Wi-Spy" incident in light of recent information revealed in a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report on its inquiry.
"In light of the FCC report on Google Wi-Spy -- which revealed Google intentionally collected personal information from Americans -- I urge the Department of Justice to re-evaluate the Google Wi-Spy incident," said Mr. Pallone. "Privacy is a critical issue and neither Google's influence nor size absolves it from responsibility. The public needs to know what information was collected and that the United States Government is doing everything it can to protect their privacy."
The letter asks Mr. Holder to evaluate whether the Department's own investigation into Google's conduct took into account the FCC's recent revelations, and, if not, whether it should be re-opened to re-assess whether Google's conduct violated the law.
According to an FCC report confirming that Google's collection of private consumer Internet communications was the result of a deliberate, software-design decision at Google -- not a "mistake" as the company maintained. The FCC report found that Google management and employees were informed of these plans to collect data and played critical roles in implementing them, including loading the data collection software onto Street View vehicles and testing the software to make sure it worked properly. The FCC, for its part, fined Google a modest sum for deliberately impeding and delaying the FCC's investigation, but the agency was not able to take further action after a key Google employee exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to speak with FCC officials.
According to Mr. Pallone, ensuring that this matter is investigated more fully can help prevent an incident like this from happening again.
The following is the letter's text:
May 24, 2012
The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530
Dear Attorney General Holder:
We are writing in response to recent reports that Google may have misled Congress, Federal regulators, and the American public, and potentially impeded a Federal Communications Commission ("FCC") investigation, with respect to its interception and collection of consumer Internet communications transmitted over Wi-Fi networks.
We are concerned that the facts uncovered by the FCC's investigation put Google's initial explanation of these events in question. Over the past two years, in both public statements and in testimony before Congress, Google contended that its actions were merely a "mistake" that resulted from the conduct of a "rogue" engineer, and that the company never "used" the data that it collected. However, it seems that the FCC's findings, which were based on documents, e-mails, witness interviews and other source material, demonstrate that Google's actions were intentional, that they "resulted from a deliberate software-design decision" of a Google employee who examined and evaluated the data that was collected and shared his findings with others at the company. The facts also demonstrate that this activity was not the act of a single individual, but rather of an entire team; that at least one senior manager at Google was aware of this conduct and that many others at Google were involved in carrying it out, whether by reviewing the software code that facilitated the collection, or by deploying and testing it.
The FCC's findings also show that Google's collection of consumer Internet communications was implemented without any meaningful review of its potential impact on privacy.
We understand from recent press reports and from statements made by Google that the Department of Justice conducted its own investigation into Google's activities some time ago but declined to pursue a case at that time for violations of Federal wiretap laws. It seems that the Department may have made this determination on the basis of Google's past statements that have turned out to be untrue. In light of this, we are writing to request that the Department evaluate whether its determination was based on the facts that have come to light more recently, and, if not, whether it would be appropriate to re-open its investigation to assess whether Google's conduct may in fact have violated the law.
Privacy is an important issue. The American public deserves to know that Congress and the United States Government are doing everything it can to protect privacy and hold accountable companies that violate the privacy rights of Americans. By ensuring that this matter is investigated to the fullest extent, we can understand what happened and how it can be prevented from ever happening again.
Thank you for your prompt consideration of this request.
Frank Pallone, Jr. John Barrow,
Member of Congress Member of Congress