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Google must face claims over WiFi snooping after Supreme Court refuses to hear Street View appeal

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In 2010, Google(s goog) revealed that the cars collecting location information for its Street View service were also slurping personal data from unsecured WiFi networks as the vehicles drove through residential neighborhoods. Google soon after apologized and explained that the data had been destroyed, but the company continues to face a nagging lawsuit over whether the cars’ activities violated the Wiretap Act, which forbids intercepting a person’s communications without their consent.

On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to hear Google’s petition that the lawsuit should be thrown out on the grounds that the WiFi information was available to the general public. The refusal means the case will return to a lower court where a judge will determine if the case should qualify to be heard as a class action.

The case drew widespread attention because it involved one of Google’s more notable privacy stumbles, and because the incident helped to define how the Wiretap Act — which was originally written to address telephone calls — should apply to communications in the digital age.

In the case of the Street View cars, the vehicles were able to get information not only about the name and location of the WiFi network itself (like the one you have in your house) but also, in the case of unsecured networks, the “payload” data traveling across that network, including emails and passwords.

Today, it’s unlikely that Google would be able to obtain much information this way, even if it tried, since most people now secure their WiFi network with a password, which makes it largely secure from passersby (or Google cars).

Now that Google has failed to win a motion to dismiss at the Supreme Court, the original judge will now determine if the 2010 incident should be certified as a class action. Google may also choose to settle the case instead.

Here’s a copy, via SearchEngineLand, of the 9th Circuit ruling which found that WiFi data was not “public”

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4 Responses to “Google must face claims over WiFi snooping after Supreme Court refuses to hear Street View appeal”

  1. If the supreme court heard a case; it would expand their punitive measure. The U.S. is run by evil; and spying has allot to do with it. Assuming someone brought an intelligent case to the court; they would say we don’t do security and thus being the weasel again.
    Look at it this way. That new black phone they came out with;… well I wrote them asking if their phone would be the same for the U.S. as in other countries and they said yes. Everything from physical architecture to software would be the same (in writing). Yet this month; they delayed the U.S phones for a month; and said they would be different builds. Oh gee; why would that be I ask. Living or being a citizen of the U.S. is like letting the devil into your house. Like Clinton said not long ago; people don’t deal with us because they like us; but because they have to; if memory serves me correctly. All you have to do is pay attention.

  2. Richard Mansized

    Again, coporations being treated unequally. Not only did Google spy on us (as they did in German and were prosecuted for in Australia and Germany), but they sold this data to partners.

    Now imagine in a human did this and was caught for it. They would spend the rest of their life in jail and one become one of the most despised people on the planet. Not only that but charges would be trumped up and considering the DMCA has harsher penalties than terrorism.. well… one could go on and on.

  3. Andrea Verocio

    If this was a ordinary person they would face jail time. But because its google they get a fine and a slap on the wrist. Pathetic.