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Google Street View lawsuit over Wi-Fi data collections to go ahead, judge rules

A US federal appeals court has ruled that a lawsuit against Google for alleged violations of wiretap laws should go ahead, after rejecting the firm's attempt to have the case dismissed.

Google is being sued by a number of parties after it collected people's private communications from unsecured Wi-Fi networks whilst taking images for its Street View service between 2008 and 2010.

Google has since apologised for the collection, which it says was done by mistake. The firm has tried to argued that the data collected was not covered by wiretap laws as Wi-Fi is "radio communication" and is "readily accessible to the public".

However the ninth US circuit court of appeals said this was not the case so the collections are covered by the law.

"The payload data transmitted over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks that was captured by Google included emails, usernames, passwords, images and documents," the court in San Francisco said.

"Even if it is commonplace for members of the general public to connect to a neighbour'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," it said.

A Google spokeswoman said: "We are disappointed in the 9th Circuit's decision and are considering our next steps."

The decision upholds a ruling by US district judge James Ware in June 2011.

"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, DC.

"Many internet users depend on wireless networks to connect devices in their homes, such as printers and laptops, and companies should not be snooping on their communications or collecting private data."

Image credit: Flickr (Sancho McCann (opens in new tab))

Tomas Jivanda
Tomas Jivanda

Tomas is co-founder of Lucky Pilgrim, a team of journalists, photographers and art directors who connect brands to audiences through words, imagery and design. He was formerly editorial director at Chapel and managing editor at Courier magazine, and was a writer for ITProPortal as well as The Independent, EastLondonLines, The Sunday Times Magazine, and Croon.