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Google Street View
- Issue: Privacy violations
In re Google Inc. Street View Electronic Communication Litigation
Lieff Cabraser serves as Plaintiffs' Liaison Counsel in multi-district litigation in federal court in San Francisco against Google arising out of its interception of electronic communications by Google's Street View vehicles. Spector Roseman Kodrof & Willis, P.C. and Cohen Millstein Sellers & Toll, PLLC serve as co-lead counsel in the litigation.
Google Street View vehicles are equipped with cameras to take 360 degree views of streets and 3G/GSM/Wi-Fi antennas with custom-designed software for the capture and storage of wireless signals and data. Since 2007, Google has deployed its Street View vehicles across the U.S. Plaintiffs are individuals who reside in various states and who maintained a Wi-Fi network in their homes. They used their Wi-Fi connection to send and receive private data, including usernames, passwords and personal email messages.
Plaintiffs' Street View Case Allegations
The Consolidated Class Action complaint charges that Google's Street View vehicles not only collect images for inclusion in Google Maps and Google Earth, but also are secretly imbedded with a wireless sniffer system (also referred to as a packet analyzer) that intercepts electronic communications and other data transmitted over class members' wireless network. While Google issued press releases disclosing its intent to utilize the vehicles to take photos, it failed to disclose its intent to capture Wi-Fi data. Google has stored class members' data on its servers, and the data includes email messages, usernames, passwords and other private data.
The complaint charges that Google's unauthorized interception of private Wi-Fi communications violates the federal Wiretap Act, state wiretap statutes, and California's unfair business practices. The federal Wiretap Act imposes liability against any person or corporation that "intentionally intercepts, endeavors to intercept, ... any wire, oral, or electronic communication." 18 U.S.C. S 2511(1).
Google Street View Privacy Case Status
The complaint charges that Google's unauthorized interception of private Wi-Fi communications violates the federal Wiretap Act, state wiretap statutes, and California's unfair business practices act. The federal Wiretap Act imposes liability against any person or corporation that "intentionally intercepts, endeavors to intercept, ... any wire, oral, or electronic communication." 18 U.S.C. S 2511(1). Google moved to dismiss the case.
On June 29, 2011, Google failed in its motion to dismiss plaintiffs' key federal claim of violating the Wiretap Act. U.S. District Court Judge James Ware rejected Google's argument that intentionally intercepting data from unencrypted wireless home networks was permissible under the Wiretap Act because such data was "readily accessible to the general public."
The Court disagreed with Google's interpretation of the federal Wiretap Act, an interpretation that would impose civil and criminal liability for emails transmitted over ethernet cables but "would stop short at protecting those very same emails should they pass momentarily over radio waves through a Wi-Fi network established to transmit data within a home." That view, Judge Ware held, did not "pass muster" with the intent of Congress in passing the law.
With respect to the plaintiffs’ claim that Google violated state wiretap statutes the Court held that the claim was preempted by the federal Wiretap Act, and dismissed the claim. The Court also dismissed plaintiffs’ claim that Google violated California’s unfair business practice act, but without prejudice for plaintiffs to file an amended complaint setting forth the claim with additional factual allegations.
Contact Lieff Cabraser
If you are concerned that your privacy has been violated by the Google Street View data-gathering project, please contact Lieff Cabraser to discuss your legal rights and remedies. All information will be held strictly confidential and there is no charge or obligation for our review of your case.