The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] confirmed on Wednesday that it is investigating Internet search company Google [corporate website; JURIST news archive] to determine if it violated communications laws when its Street View vehicles inadvertently collected private user data, including passwords and URLs, over WiFi networks. The FCC did not reveal any details, but stated that the investigation was officially opened earlier this year [WSJ report]. If Google is found to have intentionally violated federal communications law, including electronic eavesdropping laws, the company could face fines of up to $50,000 for each violation. Members of Congress have also indicated that the incident could factor into new Internet privacy legislation that will be considered next year.
The FCC is the most recent government organization to initiate an investigation into the breach, which has come under international scrutiny. Earlier this month, the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) [official website] announced that the company committed a "significant breach" [JURIST report] of the country's Data Protection Act [text] when Street View vehicles inadvertently collected personal information over WiFi networks including passwords, e-mails and URLs. In October, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] announced that it had ended an inquiry [JURIST report] into the company's internal policies and procedures that led to the breach. Also in October, Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart [official website] announced that the Street View breach violated [JURIST report] the country's Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act [text, PDF]. Investigations were also initiated in Australia, South Korea and Spain [JURIST reports]. Additionally, earlier this month, Google announced that it had settled [JURIST report] a class action lawsuit regarding privacy breaches related to its Google Buzz social networking program.