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ACLU slams San Francisco Wi-Fi plan

Wants more free speech and privacy

By Stephen Lawson
February 8, 2007 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has turned up the political heat on EarthLink Inc. and Google Inc.'s plan for Wi-Fi in San Francisco, telling the city's Board of Supervisors that the proposed contract doesn't have enough privacy or free-speech protections.

The ACLU of Northern California said in a letter to the supervisors on Tuesday that both EarthLink's paid service and Google's free offering would fall short of most of the group's recommendations on collection and sharing of personal data and possible tracking of users. Among other things, there are no limits on what kind of information EarthLink can or will collect, and terms for the Google service call for requiring "minimal" information on log in without defining "minimal," the letter said. In addition to privacy concerns, the group is worried that knowing information is being collected will cause users to limit what they say and do on the Internet.

The city and EarthLink agreed on a contract last month, and EarthLink is confident the closely watched project will get off the ground with deployment of a proof-of-concept network starting in April, said company spokesman Jerry Grasso. But the proposal has been under fire since before the contract was completed, and some members of the board have said a municipally owned system would be better for the city.

EarthLink negotiated the deal with the city and would build and operate the network, bringing Google in as a tenant providing the free, slower service. Some critics have warned that San Francisco could be giving a virtual monopoly on citywide Wi-Fi to private companies without ensuring user privacy or complete coverage.

The ACLU said a municipal Wi-Fi network should let users opt in or out of any service that collects data on what they look at or search for on the Internet, or their e-mail messages. There are no provisions for that in the paid or free service terms, they said. EarthLink can only save location information for 60 days, but there's no limit to how long it can store "Personal Protected Information," and no limit to how long Google can store any information, the ACLU said.

Users of the EarthLink service can opt out of receiving marketing materials, but EarthLink has free rein to share personal information with partner companies that help it deliver or promote the service.

Both service providers can hand over users' personal information for law enforcement or national security reasons without a warrant or notification of the user, though they would require "court-ordered documentation" before doing so. If information is sought for a civil suit, EarthLink or Google would have to tell the user first.

EarthLink's Grasso declined to comment on the ACLU's letter, saying EarthLink has not seen it. Google and city representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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