The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday denied [opinion, PDF] a motion to dismiss a lawsuit accusing Google [corporate website] of violating a federal wiretap law while collecting data for its Street View program. The case arose after Google acknowledged that its Street View vehicles had been collecting and storing data over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks, including personal e-mails, usernames, passwords, videos and documents. Writing for the court, Judge Jay Bybee ruled that Google's data collection through Wi-Fi does not fall within an exception to the Federal Wiretap Act [text] that makes it lawful to "intercept electronic communications that are readily accessible to the general public."
In common parlance, watching a television show does not entail "radio communication." Nor does sending an email or viewing a bank statement while connected to a Wi-Fi network. There is no indication that the Wiretap Act carries a buried implication that the phrase ought to be given a broader definition than the one that is commonly understood.The decision affirms a June 2011 district court ruling.
Google has faced criticism for numerous privacy issues recently. In June a US district court ruled that Google must follow [JURIST report] the FBI's warrantless requests for user information through national security letters (NSLs) [CRS backgrounder, PDF]. In April Google agreed to a $7 million settlement [JURIST report] of another case alleging improper data during its Street View campaign. Also in April six European countries commenced legal action [JURIST report] against Google regarding its privacy policies. Last December an Italian appeals court overturned the conviction of three Google executives for violating Italian privacy laws [JURIST report] by posting a video on Google of a handicapped child being bullied. In June 2012 a Switzerland court found for Google [JURIST report] in a privacy suit involving its Street View service. Similarly, in March 2011 a Berlin court ruled [JURIST report] for Google, holding that the controversial Street View service is legal in Germany.