Google has been in hot water since it was revealed that it had harvested data, such as user names and email addresses, from wireless networks. The Internet giant sought to have the lawsuit against it dismissed, saying that claims it had violated the Wiretap Act weren’t valid, something an appeals court in the US ultimately did not grant, regardless of the fact that the wireless networks were unsecured.
According to Circuit Judge Jay Bybee, it doesn’t matter if a wireless network is unsecured, allowing those in the local vicinity to log on to it, because “members of the general public do not typically mistakenly intercept, store, and decode data transmitted by other devices on the network.”
Such a lawsuit results from what Google said was unintentional data collection and storage of information from wireless networks via its Street View cars. The data collection, said Google, was not intentional, but it was later revealed that the Google engineer who programmed the systems was aware of the data that would be collected. This revelation resulted in privacy groups in Europe re-opening their investigations into the matter.
In the US, a San Francisco Judge ruled in 2011 that private lawsuits could go after Google for violation of the federal Wiretap Act, something that has now been upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Said Judge Bybee speaking of the unintentional collection of data from wireless networks, “Surely Congress did not intend to condone such an intrusive and unwarranted invasion of privacy when it enacted the Wiretap Act” against the illegal interception of communications.
He went on to say that by allowing Google to get an exemption for its actions, it could lay the groundwork for someone to purposely collect data from an unsecured network because of its availability without legal repercussions. In March of this year, Google agreed to a $7 million settlement and to the destruction of the collected data.