Google spying may have caught data from members of Congress

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who chairs the Intelligence Subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee, has used an unsecured wireless network at her home, according to a watchdog group that has been seeking an investigation into Google's practices.

Google admitted to collecting information transmitted over unsecured wireless networks, beginning in 2006, as it sent vehicles around the world to create its famous Google Map street view service.

Raw Story called Harman's Communications Office for comment Friday morning. A spokesman declined to comment, both on the report, and as to why a member of Congress on the Homeland Security Committee may have had an unsecured wireless network at her home that could be intercepted by anyone driving by.

The spokesman said her office will likely be issuing a statement, which Raw Story will print in full when it arrives.

"The issue [of Google's spying] came to light when German authorities asked to audit the data," notes BBC News. "The search giant said the snippets could include parts of an email, text, photograph, or even the website someone might be viewing."

"We think the Google Wi-Spy effort is one of the biggest wire tapping scandals in US history," John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog told BBC News.

The BBC explains the practice:

This practice is often described as "drive-by spying" and is favoured by criminals who trawl the streets to find houses or businesses using unencrypted wifi, so they can steal financial information.

Google has stressed all along that someone would need to be using the network as their cars passed by and that the in-car wifi equipment automatically changes channels roughly five times a second.

Consumer Watchdog focused on a number of high profile politicians whose homes appear on Google's Street View maps.

It found that Congresswoman Jane Harman, who heads the intelligence sub committee for the House's Homeland Security Committee, has an open home network that could have leaked out vital information that could have been picked up by Street View vehicles.

Harman has been cited in reports before related to spying.

Last year, Congressional Quarterly reporter Jeff Stein alleged that Harman was caught by an NSA wiretap pledging to intervene in an espionage case involving an Israeli lobbyist.

National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair has said Harman was not wiretapped by the National Security Agency. He declined to specify where the surveillance originated. A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the wiretap was done by the FBI, and that Pelosi was tipped off by “some intelligence official."

There's no indication that Google was involved, but the fact that Harman's home network could have been unsecured may raise new questions.

According to a purported transcript of the wiretapped call, Harman had spoken with an Israeli agent about threatening Pelosi with withholding campaign donations if she wasn’t named chairwoman of the intelligence committee.

Harman vehemently denied that she had said anything improper, calling them "false accusations" that had "no basis in fact."

"These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact. I never engaged in any such activity," Harman declared in an Apr. 2009 statement. "Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves."

Harman was never charged with any crime.

Stein's report said that then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales blocked an investigation into Harman, telling CIA Director Porter Goss in 2005 that he “needed Jane’s help” in defending the soon-to-be-exposed warrantless wiretapping program. (The program was later exposed in the New York Times, but not until after George W. Bush was re-elected. The Times held the story for a year at the White House's request.)

“Frustrated and angry at Gonzales for aborting the investigation, intelligence officials let Pelosi know about the wiretap and its contents, according to three former national security officials,” Stein wrote.

“She knew. We made sure she knew,” one of the former officials was quoted as saying, purportedly “chuckling” as he said it.

Subsequently, Harman was not named chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that reports of any wiretaps had nothing to do with it.

Pelosi has called Harman an “extraordinarily talented member of Congress” and a “patriotic American” who “would never do anything to hurt her country.”