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.
The goal that Google has in mind is to prove that they should be granted an exemption from the Wiretap Act. Contrary to how things generally go for Google, this instance proves that they don’t always get what they want.
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.”
Of course this is a legal issue so a decision is never really a decision because the system allows for people to complain and appeal ad infinitum and you know Google will take full advantage of that fact.
What is almost comical about this is the length of time that Google made their ‘mistake’. It was two years! If this was an isolated incident and Google realized its mistake and shut down after a week or so it’s not likely anyone would blink. Two years though makes it seem like much more than just an accident. Was it intentional? Who can say but when you ‘make a mistake’ for two years it starts to look a lot less like a mistake.
A Google spokeswoman said: “We are disappointed in the Ninth Circuit’s decision and are considering our next steps.”
It is rumored that the spokeswoman made that statement using Google Voice while sitting outside her neighbor’s house while ‘accidentally’ mooching off the unsuspecting neighbor’s wi-fi connection. OK, I kid but it does create a pretty funny picture doesn’t it?
This won’t go away quite yet but wouldn’t it be nice if Google just walked away, said they were sorry, paid fines or whatever and then stopped making this kind of mistake? Now THAT is a funny thought, because they won’t. But really….they should.
What’s your take?