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Lawmakers urge DOJ to reopen Google Street View probe

Two Democratic congressmen tell U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that Web giant's actions were a "deliberate software-design decision."

Google Street View car in action.
James Martin/CNET

Two congressmen have asked the Department of Justice to reopen its investigation of Google's Street View street-mapping service, which collected and stored data from unencrypted wireless networks.

Google's Street View cars, which were supposed to collect the locations of Wi-Fi access points, also inadvertently collected e-mail and text messages, passwords, Internet-usage history, and other data from unsecured wireless networks for two years or so, beginning in 2007.

In the wake of a recently released FCC report that concluded no laws had been broken by the surreptitious data gathering, Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and John Barrow (D-Ga.) sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, saying the Web giant's actions were a "deliberate software-design decision."

"In light of the FCC report on Google Wi-Spy -- which revealed Google intentionally collected personal information from Americans -- I urge the Department of Justice to re-evaluate the Google Wi-Spy incident," Pallone said in a statement. "Privacy is a critical issue and neither Google's influence nor size absolves it from responsibility."

Google said the data collection was unintentional and pointed out that reviews conducted by the FCC and Justice Department cleared the Web giant of wrongdoing.

"We have always been clear that the leaders of this project did not want or intend to use this payload data," a Google representative told CNET. "Indeed Google never used it in any of our products or services. Both the DOJ and the FCC have looked into this closely -- including reviewing the internal correspondence -- and both found no violation of law."

Although Google said the data was "mistakenly" collected, Google's actions "resulted from a deliberate software-design decision of a Google employee who examined and evaluated the data that was collected and shared his findings with others at the company," the lawmakers wrote.

After releasing a heavily redacted copy of its report, the FCC published its full report after a privacy group filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the agency. Among the FCC's findings was that a rogue engineer deliberately wrote code to collect the data and told two colleagues, including a senior manager, about the code. This engineer also distributed to the Street View team a document that said the data collection would take place, the FCC found.

While it found that no laws were broken, the FCC imposed a $25,000 fine on Google, alleging that the Web giant "deliberately impeded and delayed" its probe into the policies governing the mapping service.

TheJustice Department closed its investigation into Google's Street View in May 2011, deciding "it would not pursue a case for violation of the Wiretap Act," according to information Google released last month.