Google loses appeal in Street View privacy case

Tue Sep 10, 2013 4:47pm EDT
 
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By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court rejected Google Inc's bid to dismiss a lawsuit accusing it of violating federal wiretap law when its accidentally collected emails and other personal data while building its popular Street View program.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to exempt Google from liability under the federal Wiretap Act for having inadvertently intercepted emails, user names, passwords and other data from private Wi-Fi networks to create Street View, which provides panoramic views of city streets.

"It's a landmark decision that affirms the privacy of electronic communications for wireless networks," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C.

"Many Internet users depend on wireless networks to connect devices in their homes, such as printers and laptops, and companies should not be snooping on their communications or collecting private data."

Writing for a three-judge panel, Circuit Judge Jay Bybee said Wi-Fi communications did not qualify as a "radio communication," or an "electronic communication" that was "readily accessible to the general public," such that Google deserved an exemption from the Wiretap Act.

"Even if it is commonplace for members of the general public to connect to a neighbor's unencrypted Wi-Fi network," Bybee wrote, "members of the general public do not typically mistakenly intercept, store, and decode data transmitted by other devices on the network."

A Google spokeswoman said: "We are disappointed in the Ninth Circuit's decision and are considering our next steps."

Elizabeth Cabraser, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said she is pleased with the decision, and "reassured that our courts continue to uphold personal privacy as an important value."   Continued...

 
A Google logo is seen at the entrance to the company's offices in Toronto September 5, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Helgren