The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held last week said that Google could have breached federal wiretap laws when it collected user data from unencrypted wireless networks through its “street-view” cars. The court rejected Google’s argument that payload data transmitted over a Wi-Fi network is not “radio communications” as defined under the federal Wiretap Act.
The 9th Circuit also rejected Google’s petition for an en banc review of the case. The opinion would allow a lawsuit in District Court to proceed against Google over data collection through its Street View cars. The issues of fact would be decided in the District Court, but Google is now left with little room to maneuver against claims of wiretapping.
In 2010, Google had admitted that its Street View cars had inadvertently captured data transmitted over neighboring Wi-Fi networks while shooting photos. The company had apologized for its actions and said that it would destroy or render inaccessible close to 650 GB of data it had thus collected from Wi-Fi networks.
However, with the 9th Circuit now ruling that collecting such data is not protected under the Wiretap act, Google may be held guilty of wiretapping. The lawsuit against Google had been filed following Google’s admission, and the plaintiffs claiming that Google had violated the Wiretap Act, which prohibits the intentional interception of electronic data.
The lawsuit further mentions that Google had collected data from open Wi-Fi networks including SSIDs and even data from personal emails, passwords, videos and documents. Google claimed it had not done anything illegal because the collected data was unencrypted and sent over unsecured wireless networks. The company claimed people who did not take the precaution of taking extra steps to protect their data had no reasonable expectations of privacy.
Alan Butler, appellate advocacy counsel with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) said, “The Ninth Circuit’s ruling in the Google Street View case is significant because the court affirmed its previous holding that Wi-Fi communications are protected under the Wiretap Act.”
The U.S Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected Google’s argument that payload data transmitted over a Wi-Fi network is not “radio communications” as defined under the federal Wiretap Act. A lawsuit against Google is filed which says it could have breached the federal wiretap laws when collecting user data from unencrypted wireless networks through its “street-view” cars. Now with the ruling by 9th Circuit, Google may be held guilty of wiretapping.