State AGs question Google about Street View Wi-Fi snooping

Connecticut's attorney general says legal action against the company is possible

Law enforcement officials from 38 states have sent a letter to Google, asking the company whether it tested its Street View mapping software before discovering it was snooping on Wi-Fi networks as the Street View cars drove through neighborhoods.

The letter, organized by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, also asks Google if the company's Street View cars recorded any Wi-Fi data for more than 0.2 seconds. The letter, sent to a Google attorney Wednesday, asks the company how it was unaware that the code in the software was able to collect data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.

Google revealed in May that its Street View cars were collecting data from Wi-Fi networks. The company said the collection of Wi-Fi network's payload data was a mistake. Since then, U.S. residents have filed several class-action lawsuits against the company, with the lawsuits alleging that the company violated federal wiretap laws.

Blumenthal may consider legal action against Google, he said in a press release.

"Google's responses continue to generate more questions than they answer," Blumenthal said in a statement. "Consumers have a right to expect that data transmitted over personal and business wireless networks remains confidential. Our multistate investigation will determine whether laws were broken and whether legislation is necessary to prevent future privacy breaches."

The letter asks Google to list the states where Wi-Fi snooping occurred. It also asks the company to name the employee who created the code allowing for interception of Wi-Fi network data, and it asks why Google has not been able to determine the places where the Wi-Fi data was collected.

Law enforcement officials from Texas, New York, Washington and North Carolina were among those joining Blumenthal's investigation.

"Our potent partnership -- 38 states and counting -- will vigorously and aggressively investigate Google's Street View cars' unauthorized collection of data transmitted over wireless networks," Blumenthal said. "Google must come completely clean, fully explaining how this invasion of personal privacy happened and why."

Google is working with law enforcement authorities to answer their questions and concerns, a company spokeswoman said. "As we've said before, it was a mistake for us to include code in our software that collected payload data, but we believe we did nothing illegal," she said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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