Candidate Blumenthal Goes After Google Streetview

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Remember Richard Blumenthal? The Connecticut Attorney General who has led a pack of other state Attorneys General for more than a year chasing pedophiles (who may or may not have been there) on social networks and prostitutes on Craigslist?

And who, in what is surely just a coincidence, is running for the U.S. Senate, and whose campaign is slipping following revelations that he lied about serving in Vietnam?

He's back -- and now he's jumping on the outrage bandwagon about privacy issues with Google Streetview. The company came under fire earlier this year amidst revelations that while taking pictures for the mapping service, Google cars were also collecting data from wifi networks -- not only publicly broadcast SSID information (the WiFi network name) and MAC addresses (the unique number given to a device like a WiFi router) but also payload data (information sent over the network).

Google says it was a mistake. "In 2006 an engineer working on an experimental WiFi project wrote a piece of code that sampled all categories of publicly broadcast WiFi data," the company wrote in its blog. "A year later, when our mobile team started a project to collect basic WiFi network data like SSID information and MAC addresses using Google’s Street View cars, they included that code in their software—although the project leaders did not want, and had no intention of using, payload data."

The company went on to outline steps it was taking to address the problem immediately, as well as making sure it wouldn't happen in the future. "The engineering team at Google works hard to earn your trust—and we are acutely aware that we failed badly here. We are profoundly sorry for this error and are determined to learn all the lessons we can from our mistake."

However, that isn't enough for Blumenthal and his pack of state Attorneys General -- only 30 this time -- who smelled blood in the water.

“I am demanding Google reveal any WIFI data collection in Connecticut," Blumenthal thundered in a press release. "If it occurred, the company should provide my office a full explanation, including what it gathered, when, where and why. My office can evaluate whether laws were broken. Concealed Internet capture by Google’s high tech cars may violate valid expectations of privacy -- making it possibly illegal. If personal data was collected, Google must disclose how widely it was captured, how it was stored, who had access to it and the purpose."

Apparently Google responded with alacrity -- no doubt cowed by Blumenthal -- because the next day, he had another press release.

“My office is carefully considering Google’s answers and will seek additional information," Blumenthal said. "Key questions include how Google learned that its software was gathering unencrypted data and why the company kept the information. We will consider the legality of Google’s WiFi collection practices. Google’s actions raise troubling and profound questions about privacy and whether laws need to be clarified or changed."

Blumenthal also reportedly led a conference call among the 30 Attorneys General, including staff with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office, deciding whether to join forces in an investigation, according to an article in the Austin Business Journal. Other participating states include Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Massachusetts, and possibly Maryland and New York, according to EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Blumenthal also suggested that consumers implement encryption on their wireless networks and change the passwords from those supplied from the factory, which are reasonable precautions.

“Unauthorized surveillance of wireless network data is the dark side of the new Internet era -- and I will fight it," Blumenthal vowed. He did not say whether he considered it more or less dark than the Internet pedophiles and prostitutes he is already fighting.