updated 04:33 pm EDT, Tue September 10, 2013
Google faces charges of Wiretap Act violations
A federal appeals court judge has refused to grant Google's dismissal request in an ongoing lawsuit over Wi-Fi data collection from Street View vehicles. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected the company's argument that such data collection should be exempted from the Wiretap Act, upholding a June 2011 decision from the US District Court for the Northern District of California.
"The payload data transmitted over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks that was captured by Google included emails, usernames, passwords, images, and documents," the panel of judges wrote, as quoted by the AP. "Even if it is commonplace for members of the general public to connect to a neighbor's unencrypted Wi-Fi network, members of the general public do not typically mistakenly intercept, store, and decode data transmitted by other devices on the network."
Plaintiffs in the case argue that Google violated the Wiretap Act by collecting data that was sent over unsecured Wi-Fi networks, including passwords and other sensitive information, as Street View vehicles canvassed the globe between 2008 and 2010. The company has downplayed the debacle, claiming that the data collection was part of an unauthorized experiment by a rogue employee.
The program has been met with criticism from governments and individuals throughout the world, leading to a $7 million fine with the FCC, a $189,000 fine from the German government and a €100,000 (~$132,600 USD) penalty from French regulators. To avoid a an FTC fine, the company agreed to establish privacy leadership within its engineering teams and create a public-service campaign to educate the public about securing their Wi-Fi networks.