Court Allows Wire Tap Claim to Proceed Against Google

SRKW serves as Plaintiffs' Co-Lead Counsel in multi-district litigation in federal court in San Jose against Google arising out of the interception and collection 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.

Plantiffs' 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 were 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; data which includes email messages, usernames, passwords and other private information.

The complaint charges that Google's unauthorized interception of private Wi-Fi communications violates the federal El3ectronic Communications Privacy Act, (the "Wiretap Act"), state wiretap statutes, and California's unfair business practices. The 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).

Court Ruling

In a case of first impression that the court said "presents a novel question of statutory interpretation," U.S. District Judge James Ware upheld plaintiffs' claim that Google's intentional actions of obtaining data transmitted over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks without authorization violates the Wiretap Act. Judge 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 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.