Consumer Watchdog Sends Issa’s Oversight Committee Google Report Showing Inappropriate Relationship With Obama Administration
SANTA MONICA, CA -- Consumer Watchdog today sent Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) a 32-page report detailing how Google has inappropriately, benefited from its close ties to the Obama Administration, including how NASA’s Moffett Airfield, near Google’s world headquarters, has been turned into a taxpayer-subsidized private airport for Google executives used for corporate junkets.
A growing fleet of jets and helicopters stand ready to ferry the company’s top executives near or far, for business or pleasure, for vacations or schmoozing, including at least three wintertime trips to the Caribbean and a trip by Google chief executive Eric Schmidt to the Cannes Film Festival. Humanitarian groups, by contrast, have been denied access to the airport.
Consumer Watchdog asked the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate the relationship between Google Inc. and the US government as well as the Wi-Spy incident, and to call CEO Eric Schmidt to testify under oath.
In a letter to Issa, Jamie Court, Consumer Watchdog president and John M. Simpson, Inside Google Project director, wrote:
“An investigation by the committee of Google’s relationship to the Administration is particularly timely now in light of the way the Federal Trade Commission closed its probe of the Wi-Spy incident, and the Department of Justice’s current review of the pending acquisition of ITA Software.”
Read the full report here:
Read the letter to Rep. Issa here:
The report, Lost in the Cloud: Google and the US Government, is drawn from records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews. It found that Google’s ambitious quest for influence with the government is starting to pay off. Among other issues raised by the report are:
- Google’s close ties with the Obama White House have raised concerns about possible special treatment or conflicts of interest at the Department of Homeland Security, the US Patent & Trademark Office, the Federal Communications Commission and NASA.
- Officials at both DHS and the FCC have raised pointed concerns about weak privacy protections in Google products and whether Google’s well-documented difficulties with privacy protection could create big problems for federal agencies that use its services. Nonetheless no-bid contracts have been given to Google.
- A secretive relationship with the National Security Agency. The search giant has a legitimate need to cooperate with the government’s mammoth and secretive code breaking agency in its efforts to defend the integrity of US computer networks. But NSA also has legal power to force Google to hand over the private information of its users. How Google executives handle this potentially conflicted relationship is largely unknown: neither Google nor the NSA are talking.
One of the most visible signs of Google’s clout, the report said, is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Moffett Airfield, near Google’s world headquarters. When a deal between NASA and top Google executives to use the base was first disclosed in 2007, it called for only four jets to use the base.
But newly released government records show that the Google executive fleet has now grown to six jets and two helicopters, while at least 40 Google employees hold security badges at the base and all of the planes are supplied with Department of Defense jet fuel.
While the deal was originally struck between Google and NASA in the name of scientific research by the Google fleet, NASA documents show that precious little research has occurred. According to a set of emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, a fighter jet bought by Google executives in 2008 to perform the research was still being reviewed for air-worthiness in mid-2010.
Meanwhile, flight records show that the other jets parked by Google executives at the NASA field are often used for junkets, vacations and schmoozing. These include at least three wintertime trips to the Caribbean and a trip by Google chief executive Eric Schmidt to the Cannes Film Festival, where he hobnobbed with Mick Jagger and Hollywood stars.
“Our report only reveals only part of the picture,” said the letter to Issa asking for an investigation. “The House Oversight & Government Reform Committee has subpoena power if necessary. We urge you to use all the tools at the committee’s disposal to reveal the extent of Google’s influence on the government and how the Internet giant has unfairly benefited.”
Consumer Watchdog’s letter also noted:
“Several executive agencies have responded in a severely guarded and limited fashion to Freedom of Information Act requests on significant issues involving Google that the public deserves to know more about.
“In addition, there has been insufficient federal action on Google’s “Wi-Spy” debacle in which its Street View cars gathered private data from Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries.
“This is the largest wire tapping scandal in world history by one of America’s biggest and most powerful corporations, yet there has not been a single hearing on Capitol Hill. We respectfully submit that Google CEO Eric Schmidt should be asked to testify under oath so that the American public learns the truth about Wi-Spy.”
Consumer Watchdog has been working to protect consumers’ online privacy rights and educate them about the issues through its Inside Google Project. The goal has been to convince Google of the social and economic importance of giving consumers control over their online lives. By persuading Google, the Internet’s leading company, to adopt adequate guarantees, its policies could become the gold standard for privacy for the industry, potentially improving the performance of the entire online sector.
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Consumer Watchdog, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, DC and Santa Monica, Ca. Consumer Watchdog’s Website is www.consumerwatchdog.org. Visit our Inside Google Project Website at http://insidegoogle.com
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