US Supreme Court Shoots Down Google's Challenge Over Street View Lawsuit
June 30, 2014

US Supreme Court Shoots Down Google’s Challenge Over Street View Lawsuit

Peter Suciu for - Your Universe Online

Google won't get its day in court – at least not with the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). The highest court in the land on Monday declined to hear Google Inc.'s lawsuit challenge.

Google had sought to challenge a lawsuit that accused it of violating federal wiretap law when it accidentally collected emails and other personal data when building its popular Street View program. The Supreme Court left intact a September 2013 ruling by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals that refused to exempt Google, which it claims it inadvertently intercepted emails as well as user names, passwords and other data from private unencrypted Wi-Fi networks while it was creating the panoramic views of city streets.

As a result Google now faces a class-action lawsuit that alleges that the company illegally snooped on individuals from 2008 to 2010 while gathering the Street View data. Google had automatically scanned for unencrypted Wi-Fi networks, which it claims was necessary to verify a Street View cars' location – but apparently in the process it gathered a plethora of "payload data" along the way.

Google actually acknowledged and subsequently halted the data collection in 2010, and claimed that it never used the information as part of a product or service. However, in June 2011 US District Judge James Ware in San Francisco allowed plaintiffs in several private lawsuits to pursue federal Wiretap Act claims against the search giant, Venture Beat reported.

Last October, US District Court Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose decided to uphold a wiretapping lawsuit against the company, and this followed another US appeals court ruling that also upheld a decision that Google should be held responsible for violating wiretapping laws. Google had sought to have the lawsuit dismissed by arguing that it had only adhered to normal business practices.

Following Google's acknowledgement that it had amassed the "payload data" a number of investigations followed. Stephanie Mlot reported for PC Mag that these investigations were not limited to America and in the end Google was handed down a $137,000 (US) fine in March 2011 in France while another levy was ordered a year later by Germany, which demanded $198,000 (US).

In addition, in April 2012, the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) alleged that Google 'deliberately impeded and delayed' an investigation and proposed a $25,000 fine for obstruction. The tech giant further reached a $7 million settlement with 38 states and the District of Columbia last year, and per the agreement it promised to destroy data collected in the United States.

"The Supreme Court's decision not to hear the case strengthens American's right to privacy and sanctity of their property," said Roger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics. "Just like it is a break-in when you enter someone's unlocked front door, it is also illegal to get into someone's unsecure Wi-Fi. Just because you can, doesn't means you are allowed to."

With the SCOTUS decision Google's lawyers will likely find themselves quite busy as well.

"Google should get ready for a wave of litigation from people whose privacy was violated," Entner told redOrbit. "Google just can't take everything they can get a hold off just because it's digital. It is not a surprise that this first started overseas as their sensitivities around privacy are considerable higher than ours in the U.S."