Google has done some pretty amazing things with its Street View program, including giving its users unparalleled views from some of world's most famous landmarks and even putting them right in the middle of the Tour de France. It's a pretty remarkable feature; one that is allowing people to see parts of the world they might never get to experience otherwise.
That is what makes the ugly side of the program so much worse. Google has landed in some hot water over the last few years over the data that it gathered with the program, and the courts are rejecting all claims that what Google did was not illegal.
Tthe U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled against Google on Tuesday, upholding a prior decision not to dismiss claims from a class action lawsuit that accused the compan of violating the Wiretap Act by using its Street View program to gather information from unsecured wireless networks.
"The panel affirmed the district court's order denying a motion to dismiss claims that Google, Inc., violated the Wiretap Act when, in the course of capturing its Street View photographs, it collected data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks," it says in the filing.
Google's argument for having the charges dismissed was that that, under the Wiretap Act, it is not illegal to intercept any form of electronic communication that can be accessed by the general public.
The Court rejected Google's argument, though, saying that "data collection did not fall within a Wiretap exemption" because it was not a radio communication, which are the only types of data that may be exempted under the law.
While Google tried to argue that data transmitted over a Wi-Fi network is an electronic communication that is readily accessible to the general public, as long as it is not encrypted or scrambled, the court ruled that the information gathered by Google over those Wi-Fi networks "is not readily accessible to the public" under ordinary means.
Translation: Google had no right to that data, and it is going to face charges over collecting it. Google can now either appeal, settle or go to trial.
A Google spokesperson told VatorNews that the company is "disappointed in the Ninth Circuit's decision" and that Google is "considering our next steps."
The case stems from a 2010 probe from the Federal Communications Commission in regards to private information the company collected as part of its Street View feature.
Google is being accused of violating the Wiretap Act over data it collected for the feature on Google Maps from 2007 through 2010. While taking photos for the project, the company was also collecting “payload” data, including the e-mails, passwords and text messages of the wireless home networks in those neighborhoods.
Google, of course, denies that that was what it meant do. The company has admitted that the data collection happened, calling it a mistake and trying to blame the incident on one engineer.
The FCC probe, which lasted over a year and half, eventually found that Google had done nothing wrong, saying that the collection of the payload data was not illegal because “Google collected payload data only from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks, not from encrypted ones.”
Still, the FCC levied a $25,000 fine at the company for impeding, and delaying, their investigation.
They accused Google of refusing to identify the employees involved in the incident, including those who had authorized it nor those who had reviewed the payload data, and of not fully responding to the FCC’s inquiry that began in November 2010 until early September 2011.
(Image source: http://www.technobuffalo.com)