From the “you gotta be kidding” section of the news comes Bloomberg.com reporting on Google and the FCC (emphases added):
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is seeking a $25,000 fine from Google Inc. (GOOG) for not cooperating with an investigation into the company’s collection of personal data over wireless networks.
For months, Google “impeded” and “delayed” the probe, which concerned e-mail, text messages and other private material gathered in connection with the company’s Street View location service, according to an FCC filing dated April 13.
A GOOG employee appears to have taken the Fifth:
The FCC said it wasn’t penalizing Mountain View, California-based Google for violating laws against unauthorized interception of communications.
“There is not clear precedent,” the agency said in the filing. In addition, “significant factual questions” couldn’t be answered because a Google engineer asserted his constitutional right not to testify, the FCC said.
Laws may have been broken:
For three years starting in May 2007, Google collected content from wireless networks that wasn’t needed for its location-based services, according to the FCC filing. Google gathered so-called payload data, including e-mail and text messages, passwords, Internet-usage history, and “other highly sensitive personal information,” the FCC said.
In May 2010, Google said it would stop using Wi-Fi information for Street View, which displays pictures of streets on Google Maps. At the time, the company said that it had collected the information by mistake.
Google violated FCC orders by delaying its search for e- mails, by failing to identify employees and by not verifying the accuracy of its submissions, falling “well short of what we expect and require,” the agency said…
The FCC’s action was inadequate, Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which requested the FCC investigation, said in an interview.
“Google unlawfully intercepted and stored millions of wireless communications from Wi-Fi routers,” Rotenberg said in an e-mail. “We believe that is a violation of the federal wiretap act.”
The Washington-based policy group, which focuses on consumer privacy issues, intends to ask U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate, Rotenberg said.
Canada, France and the Netherlands have determined Google violated data protection, online privacy or similar laws and regulations, the FCC said in its filing.
Regulators outside the U.S. found that Google had harvested personal e-mails, as well as financial and health records, Rotenberg said.
Don’t be evil?
The proposed penalty for perhaps violating Google’s corporate precept: something closer to a love tap than it is even to a mere wrist-slap.
Could this be a case of “regulatory capture”? Crony capitalism? Or simply the FCC being limited in its mandate, so that it has been acting appropriately?
When someone invokes the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, would that perhaps set off alarm bells that referral to a prosecutor for investigation of the situation should be considered? Might that have been done in this case but the full situation was not known to the Bloomberg reporting team? If so, why would Rotenberg’s group be trying to interest Justice in the matter?
Yours truly is neither a lawyer nor skilled in FCC matters.
Any information that readers have about this case or the general issues raised by this case would be welcomed.