Lawmakers question whether Google misled Congress on data collection

Two Democratic lawmakers on Thursday questioned whether Google misled Congress and regulators over its collection of data from unprotected Wi-Fi networks.

Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and John Barrow (D-Ga.), who both serve on the Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to re-open the Justice Department's investigation into the case.

From 2007 to 2010, Google cars collected data from unprotected Wi-Fi networks as they drove through neighborhoods taking pictures for the company's Google Maps Street View project. The data included Internet activity, passwords and other personal information.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Justice Department investigated the incident and concluded that Google did not violate wiretapping laws.

In their letter, Pallone and Barrow noted that Google officials had said, including in testimony before Congress, that the company had "mistakenly" collected the data and never used it.

But the FCC's report on the issue indicated that the data collection was the deliberate act of a sole Google engineer who did access the personal information.

The lawmakers questioned whether the FCC's report shows that Google misled "Congress, federal regulators, and the American public" about the data collection. They asked whether the Justice Department's determination that Google did not break the law was based on the company's past statements, and if so, to re-open its investigation.

A Google spokesman said the company has cooperated with lawmakers and regulators and that the FCC's report did not contradict the statements of company officials. 

"We have always been clear that the leaders of this project did not want or intend to use this payload data — indeed Google never used it in any of our products or services," the spokesman said. "Both the DoJ and the FCC have looked into this closely — including reviewing the internal correspondence — and both found no violation of law."   

The FCC's report did not indicate that any of the leaders of the Street View project intended to collect the personal data.