Recently I saw an ad which read:
“Over 60% of the U.S. state governments have gone Google.”
Does this mean that we’ve now handed the majority of our state governments’ operational data to a single privately-controlled company which has well-publicized partnerships with other governments such as China?
To find out more, I contacted Google’s press department. A representative promptly got back to me with more information:
“The reference to Going Google refers to US state governments using one or more of Google’s enterprise products…With regard to data hosting, Google Apps is a cloud computing solution meaning Google hosts the data in our data centers, relieving the customer or gov agency of the burden of managing their own servers in house.”
In other words, according to Google, United States state governments have literally handed over our public data to be held and managed by a private company which has well-publicized partnerships with other governments such as China. The data is physically stored in Google’s buildings, on Google’s servers, managed by Google’s employees. This means Google now controls our government’s access to it’s own data.
Google declined to make their list of state government customers public, so instead I checked to see which states had active Google Apps login pages for their domains. There are 19 states that have active Google Apps login pages (plus Washington D.C.) These include:
| New Hampshire
In September, Google announced its plans to create a major government data hosting operation for the United States. “Today, we’re excited to announce our intent to create a government cloud, which we expect to become operational in 2010. Offering the same services and features as our existing commercial cloud (such as Google Apps), this dedicated environment within existing Google facilities in the US will serve the unique needs of US federal, state, and local governments…”
Moving the data itself offsite is a BIG change, and one that comes at a BIG price. This effectively places state governments’ data outside the direct control of our government. If Google (or an ISP) were to decide for whatever reason– economic, political– to cut us off from our data, governments using their services would be, well, Scroogled.
To me, this is an unacceptable level of control for a single private company to have over federal, state or local government. When you reach a point where the government cannot operate without a private company, then the private company has effectively gained control of the government.
With Google physically housing and managing state government operational data, they literally gain control of our government’s operations. What’s more, Google also has access to data mine the information. Would this be legal? Hopefully not, depending on the contract that our governments have signed. Would it be technologically possible? Of course.
In another twist, state governments’ moves to outsource their data could also open their information to far greater access by intelligence agencies. It might be legal under homeland security rules for federal intelligence agencies to force Google to turn over information from state and local governments, perhaps without even notifying them. For issues where state laws are in direct conflict with federal laws, the implications for states’ rights are serious. For example, several states maintain lists of registered medical marijuana patients. Could a federal agency force or coerce Google to turn over lists of names without permission from the state?
Google is extremely good at managing its own public image (it undeniably has a leg up due to the fact that it controls news sources and search engine returns). However, it is still a for-profit corporation and ultimately works for the good of its owners, not the public. The fact that Google is working to host a large percentage of U.S. government data should set off alarm bells. How can the U.S. government effectively manage its own security and the interests of the people when large corporations have it by the balls?
The long-term, hard-to-quantify risks of moving the United States’ operational data to a private company are easy to ignore when you look at the short-term technological benefits and shiny flashy features. No one can deny that Google enables government entities to operate with a level of sophistication that would inconceivable if all operations were done in-house. Governments typically suffer the same problems as many midsize companies with underfunded IT departments and political complexities that make it difficult to centralize and streamline operations. It doesn’t really make sense for every state and local government to reinvent the wheel with respect to IT. With no “public option” for scalable, government-sponsored IT services, it’s understandable that state and local governments would outsource to the private sector.
That said, the practice of outsourcing government IT management is risky and deserves careful scrutiny and regulation. It’s funny that we’re chasing after “terrorists” in our airports, and at the same time our state governments have moved fundamental operations data over to a private company which is not controlled by the public and has strong ties to foreign governments.
Google is outside our system of checks and balances. They are quickly becoming absolutely necessary for our government to function, but their operations are not transparent and are outside the control of the American people.
Here are a few related press materials published by Google:
|PGP-signed text: 2009-12-24 (current)|