What is Google building out in San Francisco Bay?
There is one agency keeping an eye on things: The Coast Guard has been routinely inspecting the two barges on the East and West coasts, as it would any vessel under construction, but spokeswoman Lt. Anna Dixon said she couldn’t talk about what the agency has found, citing nondisclosure agreements with an entity other than Google.
Such agreements, she said, are "not a standard practice" at her agency. She said she didn’t know the name of the entity.
A similar four-story structure was built this summer in the New London, Conn., harbor, and has now moved north off Maine. The Day newspaper in Connecticut found details tying that barge to Google in documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Santa Clara University law professor Dorothy Glancy said nondisclosure agreements involving inspectors are common for land-bound Silicon Valley construction projects because there are plenty of trade secrets in the clean rooms and laboratories where computer chips are built and technology is developed.
But she said Google might want to take a lesson from another bay-area mystery barge. In the 1970s, billionaire Howard Hughes docked an enormous barge called the Glomar Explorer just off Mountain View, Calif., where Google is now headquartered. Hughes said the Glomar was going to mine manganese from the ocean floor, but in reality it was being used for a top-secret CIA mission to search for nuclear missile codes in sunken Soviet submarines.
"That experience should have told Google that being mysterious like this tends not to build public confidence," Glancy said.
Privacy advocate Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, said it is ironic that the company that wants to open the world’s information to everyone "so zealously guards its own corporate secrecy."
"The barge is a perfect metaphor for a company that likes to ask forgiveness for its transgressions rather than permission," he said. "It’s also a symbol of how far from mainland values the company is going with Glass and its privacy problems."
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