SAN JOSE, Calif. — Attorneys suing Google for enabling its camera-carrying vehicles to collect emails and Internet passwords while photographing neighborhoods for the search giant’s popular “Street View” maps look forward to resuming their case now that a federal appeals court has ruled in their favor.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco said Tuesday that the Google went far beyond listening to accessible radio communication when they drew information from inside people’s homes.
“The payload data transmitted over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks that was captured by Google included emails, usernames, passwords, images, and documents,” wrote the panel. “Even if it is commonplace for members of the general public to connect to a neighbor’s unencrypted Wi-Fi network, members of the general public do not typically mistakenly intercept, store, and decode data transmitted by other devices on the network.”
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of Electronic Privacy Information Center, called it “a landmark decision for Internet privacy.”
“The court made clear that the federal privacy law applies to residential Wi-Fi networks,” he said. “Users should be protected when a company tries to capture data that travels between their laptop and their printer in their home.”
A Google spokesperson said Tuesday that attorneys for the Internet giant are “disappointed in the 9th Circuit’s decision and are considering our next steps.”
Attorney Elizabeth Cabraser, representing a class action of plaintiffs who say their privacy was invaded, said they are pleased with the opinion and are looking forward to moving forward with their case.
Google has apologized for the snooping, promised to stop collecting the data and said that collecting data from public Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries was inadvertent but not illegal.
Earlier this year Google also settled a 37-state lawsuit for $7 million after attorney generals argued that that while Google vehicles drove through neighborhoods between 2008 and March 2010 taking photos for the mapping software, the company also collected data being transferred through unsecured wireless networks.
The practice was discovered by a German data protection commissioner in 2010. A few months later, Google co-founder Sergey Brin told conference goers the firm had made a mistake.
“In short, let me just say that we screwed up,” he said at the time.
Google says it has disabled the equipment that was collecting the data, and agreed to destroy the information as soon as possible.
Street View allows users to zoom in to ground level photographs while browsing maps.