Supreme Court Rules Street View “Wiretapping” Class Action Can Proceed Against Google

Google legalAccording to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Supreme Court will not review a U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision allowing a class-action lawsuit that argues Google violated the federal “Wiretap Act” when it intercepted private email and other personal data. The appellate court decision thus stands and Google must confront the lawsuit.

The case followed 2010 revelations that Street View cars had captured private “payload data.” The plaintiff class argues that Google violated federal wiretapping laws when it intercepted their email and other communications during Street View data collection.

Google unsuccessfully moved to have the class action dismissed. However, in a case involving Gmail, Google successfully blocked a class action that included similar “wiretapping” allegations.

The Wiretap Act makes it illegal to “intentionally intercept . . . any wire, oral, or electronic communication” and to “use or disclose information that is obtained through such an illegal wiretap.” Google argued that unencrypted communications over WiFi networks should fall within a “radio communications” exception to the Wiretap Act.

Lower courts and now, by implication, the Supreme Court disagreed.

Should the plaintiffs go to trial (rather than settle) and prevail, the Act provides for both civil and criminal penalties, but leaves discretion to the court in determining the amount of damages. An issue in that determination would likely be Google’s “state of mind.” Did the company inadvertently capture these data or intentionally do so?

Google has never denied intercepting these communications. It has denied specifically trying to obtain them however.

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