Test Results Withheld From Public

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-01-26 Print this article Print


"Specifically addressing the conducted testing that is underway at SPAWAR, we object to this phase as it is also outside of the process defined by NTIA. This element of Space Command's test program was developed by it alone, without LightSquared even being provided a copy of this part of the test plan," the email complained. The LightSquared executive offered to work cooperatively with SPAWAR in the testing as had been described in the NTIA test plan.

Later, after the testing was complete, LightSquared was apparently left hanging in the dark. The company couldn't get a list of devices, test results or the key codes necessary to tie a particular device to a particular test result, according to one of LightSquared's emails: "Your process inexplicably contained a 14 day waiting period from the time a request was made for the device code key and the time that it would be released under the terms of the non‐disclosure agreements. This was further exacerbated by an unexplained delay on the part of Air Force Space Command in notifying the GPS manufacturers of LightSquared's request. Perhaps it was a coincidence that you finally provided formal notice to the GPS industry on Dec. 11, making the expiration of the 14 day waiting period Christmas day."

In other words, LightSquared was being stonewalled by the Air Force. Since that time, LightSquared has been provided the information it wants, but nobody else can see it. This means that there's no way for outsiders (meaning all media outlets including this one, third-party communications engineers or the general public) to see if LightSquared's claims are right.

By doing this, the government is once again making the whole GPS testing process secret, despite the critical interest of the entire GPS community and millions of consumers. Were the GPS tests rigged as LightSquared claims? Maybe they were. This might explain the refusal of the government to make the testing and the test results public. Right now, everyone who sees those results has to sign a nondisclosure agreement, with severe penalties if they say anything. One wonders just what SPAWAR is trying to hide.

eWEEK is already in the process of filing Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain this information, which is improperly being withheld. In the meantime, what we have learned from people who were present for the testing is that the GPS devices being tested were probably not the receivers used in your car, or by airplane pilots or first responders. It seems, from what we've learned so far, that the Air Force selected the devices most likely to fail the test.

While LightSquared's data service plan has some significant challenges before the service can be launched-challenges it may not be able to overcome-the fact is that the process must be fair, and it must be transparent. Right now, this unnecessary and perhaps illegal secrecy is anything but fair and transparent. 

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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