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Justice Department closes probe into Google Street View

As the Web giant agrees to pay the $25,000 penalty ordered by the FCC, it also discloses that the U.S. Justice Department ended its probe into Street View almost a year ago.

Google Street View car in action.
James Martin/CNET

Google released information today that the U.S. Justice Department investigation into the company's use of wireless networks while working on the Street View project closed as of last May.

This information comes within a report that the Internet giant filed with the Federal Communications Commission today, according to Bloomberg. The Justice Department decided, "it would not pursue a case for violation of the Wiretap Act," Google said in the filing.

There have been a handful of government investigations into how Google's Street View cars collected the personal and private data of individuals via wireless networks while mapping cities in more than 30 countries. The cars were supposed to collect just the locations of Wi-Fi access points but inadvertently also collected e-mail and text messages, passwords, Internet-usage history, and other data from unsecured wireless networks for four years.

The latest investigation -- by the FCC -- began a couple of years ago and concluded earlier this month. Even though the FCC dropped the probe without penalizing Google under communications and wiretap law, the government agency still slapped the company with a $25,000 penalty alleging that it "deliberately impeded and delayed" the investigation.

According to Bloomberg, Google wrote in its filing that it "acted in good faith at all times" but nevertheless would pay the FCC's penalty "in order to put this investigation behind it."

Google also alleges that the delays in the investigation were the FCC's fault, not its own, according to AFP News. "Google shares the FCC's concern about the protracted nature of the investigation, but notes that most of the delays resulted from internal FCC process," the company wrote in its FCC filing.

After a 2010 U.S. Federal Trade Commission investigation into Street View, Google took steps to improve its privacy practices, stopped the collection of Wi-Fi data, and agreed to have 20 years of independent privacy audits.

When contacted for comment, a Google spokesperson told CNET, "As the FCC said in their report, we provided all the materials necessary for them to conduct their investigation. We agree with the FCC's conclusion that we did not break the law, but believe that we did cooperate in their investigation, and we made that clear in our response."