FCC Fines Google $25K For Blocking Wi-Fi Investigation

The Federal Communications Commission has fined Google $25,000 for failing to cooperate with an investigation into its collection of URLs, passwords and emails sent over unencrypted WiFi networks.

"For many months, Google deliberately impeded and delayed the bureau's investigation," the FCC wrote in its order, issued on Friday.

At the same time, the FCC declined to pass judgment on whether Google's Street View cars broke the law by collecting the so-called "payload" data.

The ruling, issued late Friday, stems from Google's acknowledgment in 2010 that it collected a host of data that was transmitted over unencrypted WiFi networks. Google apologized for the interceptions and said it intended to destroy the data. Still, the company's statement triggered potential class-action litigation as well as investigations by regulators about whether the company violated the federal wiretap law.

Google argues that the interceptions didn't violate the federal wiretap law because the networks were not password-protected. The company says the 1986 federal wiretap law generally allows companies to intercept "readily accessible" radio transmissions -- meaning transmissions that aren't secure.

The FCC said in its order that it wasn't going to decide whether the company violated the law given that there is no "clear precedent" for how the 26-year-old statute should apply to WiFi transmissions.

Judges dealing with the class-action lawsuit about the Street View interceptions also are struggling to decide whether Google broke the law. In that case, U.S. District Court Judge James Ware rejected Google's argument and found that the company could be found liable for intercepting material even when it was sent through open networks. But Ware granted Google's request to send the matter to the 9th Circuit for a ruling by appellate judges. The case is still pending in that court.

On Sunday, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called for further investigation of Google. "The fine is a mere slap on the wrist for Google," he said in a statement. "I am concerned that more needs to be done to fully investigate the company's understanding of what happened when consumer data was collected without their knowledge or permission."

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