30+ States Prepare Legal Probe in Google WiFi Snoop

Dennis Faas's picture

Connecticut's top law official says he may be joined by others in investigating Google's alleged WiFi privacy breaches. It follows similar action in both Europe and Australia.

The dispute came about when it emerged that, while taking photographs for its Street View mapping service, Google used its vehicles to scan for local wireless networks, a move it says was designed to allow it to show the locations of free public hotspots on its maps. However, in this process it "inadvertently" collected snippets from emails and data from websites which were being transmitted wirelessly, with the total data estimated at 600 gigabytes. (Source: crn.com)

In the meantime, rumors suggest that Google is attempting to patent the very same technology it used by mistake to snoop on WiFi users in more than 30 countries. (Source: theregister.co.uk)

Data Collection a "Deeply Disturbing Invasion of Privacy"

Richard Blumenthal, the Attorney General of Connecticut, says he will lead a multi-state investigation into what he called a "deeply disturbing invasion of personal privacy." He didn't say how many states will take part, but revealed that he recently held a conference call with representatives from more than 30 states.

According to Blumenthal, questions will address how the data was collected, why it was saved, and whether Google ever read the information it contained. He also wants a fuller explanation of claims that the code which caused Google's computers to collect the data had been inserted without Google's knowledge -- and whether that's happened with any other Google programs.

Google's Response Deemed Inadequate

Blumenthal acknowledges Google has cooperated with officials, but warns that "its response so far raises as many questions as it answers." (Source: ct.gov)

He also warns that the investigation will not only look at whether any laws have been broken, but will also consider if state or federal laws need to be changed to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Around the world, Australia's Attorney General has referred the case to the country's federal police. There are investigations underway in European countries such as France, Spain and the Czech Republic, while the most serious problems may come in Germany, where previous court rulings have interpreted the law to bar any interception of wireless data, even from unsecured networks.

Officials in the United Kingdom and Ireland have opted not to pursue legal action but have ordered Google to destroy the data it collected there.

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