"It is not unlawful under the Wiretap Act to receive information from networks that are configured so that communications sent over them are "readily accessible to the general public," Google says in papers filed late last week with the U.S. District Court James Ware in San Jose, Calif.
The lawsuit stems from Google's admission earlier this year that its Street View cars collected payload data -- including URLs, passwords and emails -- sent over unencrypted WiFi networks. Google apologized for the interception and said it intended to destroy the data. Nonetheless, the company's acknowledgment triggered investigations abroad and in the U.S. about whether Google violated privacy laws, including the federal wiretap law.
Google's statements also resulted in more than a dozen potential class-action lawsuits, which were consolidated into one case now pending in federal court in San Jose. The lawsuits allege that Google violated various laws, including the federal wiretap, by collecting the payload data.
The federal wiretap law generally makes it unlawful to collect data from networks that are not password protected, but contains some exceptions for open networks -- including one for broadcasts transmitted by common carrier. Google argues that exception doesn't apply because Internet service providers aren't regulated as common carriers by the Federal Communications Commission.
In a related development, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal reportedly said Friday that Google had refused to comply with a subpoena to disclose the data it collected. Blumenthal is heading a multi-state investigation into whether Google violated any laws by intercepting WiFi data.