Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski told a House subcommittee on Wednesday that Americans should be outraged by electronic eavesdropping such as Google’s mistaken collection of e-mail addresses while making maps.
During a House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Genachowski also took flak over new rules meant to protect Internet access.
Google admitted last year that from 2007 to 2010 it collected e-mail addresses, passwords, and other personal data from unsecured wireless networks as its fleet of camera-equipped vehicles gathered images for its online maps.
Genachowski stopped short of directly criticizing Google or commenting on the agency’s ongoing investigation of the scandal. Instead, under questioning from Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., he agreed that if the government were caught doing what Google did, Americans would have every reason to be angry.
"They would react badly, as they should. Americans should and do react badly to any invasions of privacy or violations of the rules that exist in privacy," said Genachowski, the only witness at the hearing. Asked whether Internet users should be upset if a large corporation causes such a breach, he said, "I can't disagree with that."
The FCC chairman did not say when the investigation might be completed. In October, the Federal Trade Commission dropped its related inquiry into the matter after Google promised to strengthen its privacy safeguards.
During the hearing, which focused on the FCC's fiscal 2012 request for $354 million in funding, Republicans criticized the agency’s December approval of rigorous network-neutrality rules barring anticompetitive online behavior by broadband companies. The new rules were spearheaded by Genachowski with the backing of his two Democratic colleagues over objections from the commission's two Republicans.
"I personally have very strong concerns about the FCC's net-neutrality rule," Subcommittee Chairwoman Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., said. She expressed hope that Genachowski would be "willing to work more closely with the Congress" on these types of issues in the future.
Despite rumblings that Genachowski would be questioned about AT&T's proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile, he was not asked about the deal. He was, however, questioned about a regulatory proposal related to the transaction. On April 7, the FCC will vote on proposed rules requiring national telecom carriers, such as AT&T and T-Mobile, to enter into so-called "data roaming" agreements with smaller carriers under "reasonable" terms.
This would ensure that customers of regional wireless carriers can connect to the Internet outside their service territories by seamlessly "roaming" onto national networks. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., expressed concern that the FCC is trying to force major carriers, which have invested heavily in infrastructure, to allow smaller competitors to piggyback on their investments. But Genachowski insisted that the proposal is similar to the FCC's framework for roaming with voice calls, and would have the effect of spurring new investment.