Federal Communications Commission regulators are investigating Google's Street View cars and the capture of users' personal information, from complete email addresses to passwords, an FCC official said Wednesday.

The FCC's decision to pursue an investigation dramatically raises the stakes for Google (GOOG), which has been saddled with inquiries across the globe and a multi-state investigation in the U.S. for its Street View program. Google's Street View cars cruise the streets in a given community, cpturing photos of homes, buildings, streets and other environmental features for use on the company's Google Maps feature.

"Last month, Google disclosed that its Street View cars collected passwords, e-mails and other personal information wirelessly from unsuspecting people across the country," said Michele Ellison, Enforcement Bureau Chief of the Federal Communications Commission. "In light of their public disclosure, we can now confirm that the enforcement bureau is looking into whether these actions violate the Communications Act. As the agency charged with overseeing the public airwaves, we are committed to ensuring that the consumers affected by this breach of privacy receive a full and fair accounting."

That's likely to please the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which in May sent a letter to the FCC asking the agency to pursue an investigation.

With the FCC investigating the case, it adds another layer of pressure on the Internet giant. Last month, the Federal Trade Commission said it was dropping its probe in light of the changes Google made after the privacy debacle. The Internet giant, for example, hired a privacy director for engineering and product management.

"As we have said before, we are profoundly sorry for having mistakenly collected payload data from unencrypted networks. As soon as we realized what had happened, we stopped collecting all WiFi data from our Street View cars and immediately informed the authorities. As we assured the FTC, which has closed its inquiry, we did not want and have never used the payload data in any of our products and services," said a company spokesperson. "We want to delete the data as soon as possible and will continue to work with the authorities to determine the best way forward, as well as to answer their further questions and concerns."

Addressing questions and concerns may aid the Internet giant in avoiding any potential levies or fines. According to a Wall Street Journal report, fines of up to $50,000 per violation may result from intention violations.

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Intentional or unintentional privacy violations? If I speed in my car not looking at the speedometer is that considered unintentional speeding and is that a sufficient defense for a speeding ticket? No! Every single instance that data was collected by google unitentionally or not should be subject to the $50,000.00 fine.

November 14 2010 at 11:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What I want to know is to what purpose was the installation of WiFi gear in the Google (big Obamo lovers, BTW) cars intended? Were they going to SELL this info so "innocently" collected to somebody? Reminds me of the says when cops looking for a promotion rode around with scanners tuned to portable phone frequencies in the hopes they could hear someone talking about "doing something wrong".

November 12 2010 at 4:24 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

this could explain the 'across the board' raises within google recently - hush money???

November 12 2010 at 1:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The govt does this kinda thing ALL the time. If a radio signal trespasses on and over my property, I will do with it whatever I authorize myself to do with it. If that seems to be a problem for some, then they have my permission to do whatever it takes to encrypt it. But if I am able to unencrypte it, that just meens they need to do a better job. Here is the bottom line. That signal IS TRESPASSING ON MY PROPERTY. Very simple isn`t it? Have a nice day all, I am happy to have been able to set every 1 strait on this matter & have a nice day.

November 11 2010 at 6:49 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to tony's comment

Anyone know what THIS ^ has to do with the Federal Communications Act of 1934 as amended?

November 12 2010 at 4:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Just as an aside, Google DOESN'T own the street (yet).

November 12 2010 at 4:25 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply