Appeals Court To Decide Whether Google Violated Wiretap Laws
A federal judge has granted Google's request to recommend that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals consider whether the company violated federal wiretap laws by intercepting WiFi transmissions. The move means that the class-action lawsuit against Google will be placed on hold while the appellate court considers the issue.
U.S. District Court Judge James Ware in the Northern District of California said this week that the appellate court should decide the novel questions posed by the litigation before the case goes any further, Wired reports.
Even though Google has apologized for intercepting WiFi transmissions, and says it intends to destroy the data it gathered, the company also argues it didn't break any laws because its Street View cars only picked up transmissions that weren't password-protected.
The wiretap law bans intercepting electronic communications, but has an exception for ones that are publicly accessible. Consumers who are suing -- as well as privacy advocates like the Electronic Privacy Information Center -- say that the WiFi networks were not "publicly accessible," in part because interpreting them requires special software.
The problem, it's not clear how to define "publicly accessible" today. What's more, the statute dates to 1986, well before the era of WiFi networks. The appellate court ruling in this case could go a long way toward deciding how to interpret privacy laws in the Internet era.