Supreme Court Declines Google Street View Case Appeal

In 2010, Google’s Street View cars were alleged to be gathering information from unprotected Wi-Fi networks as cars went by. This resulted in the US Supreme Court filing a case against the company for violating the Wiretap Act.

google street view case

Photo: Modfos / Shutterstock

Google found itself in trouble with European authorities as well as those in other countries too, and since then has been frequently appealing that the Google Street View case be withdrawn, but the Supreme Court recently declined to hear the appeal.

The Wiretap Act prohibits unauthorized interception or access of wire and electronic communications to protect the privacy of its nation. Google has the notion that since the case was filed in 2010, it didn’t break wiretapping laws as the networks remained were unprotected but accessible by the public. The refusal to hear the appeal means that the suits by consumers will come into action.

The cars had also been accessing open security hotspots and Wi-Fi networks. Google has also been unintentionally intercepting passwords, emails, and other data when accessing unsecured networks. The access is what is utilized to create the Street View, a unique feature in Google Maps.

In the company’s defense, Google stated that the data collected by the Street View cars feature pertained to radio communications and is not protected by the Wiretap Act, as revealed by a court document.

“The court reasoned that ‘radio communication’ encompasses only ‘traditional radio services,’ and not other technologies that also transmit data using radio waves, such as cellular phones and Wi-Fi networks.”

Also, the unencrypted networks are available to the public as the law describes and not covered by wiretap rules.

EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) disagrees with Google’s argument and said this in a statement:

“These communications are not ‘broadcast’ like traditional radio communications. They are sent from one device to another directly and there is nothing about the typical configuration of a Wi-Fi device to suggest that users expect that their communications between these devices would be ‘readily accessible to the general public.”

The court pushed the decision of Wiretap Act violation by Google with the knowledge that information transmitted through public networks is not publicly available. The decision seems final, despite multiple appeals by Google. Google has already paid $7 million to settle complaints filed in 38 states.

The plaintiffs are grateful with the decision, describing it as a significant victory for Internet service users. Marc Rotenberg from the Electronic Privacy Information Center and who is a plaintiff says:

“The Supreme Court left in place a decision that protects private residential networks from snooping by Google and others.”

The only option left for Google is to return to lower courts.