Issue: Interception of private communications
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.
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.
Google Street View Privacy Case Status
Following argument by Lieff Cabraser partner Elizabeth Cabraser, in September 2013 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that federal privacy law applies to residential Wi-Fi networks and that personal information transmitted over Wi-Fi is protected against unauthorized interception. The holding was hailed as “a landmark decision for Internet privacy.” The District Court has authorized an independent expert to search the data intercepted by Google to determine the extent of access to the class representatives’ private information.
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).