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Major Victory in Electronic Privacy Action Against Google

On May 20, 2010, Minnillo Law Group Co., LPA, along with two other firms, filed the first national class action against Google in the Northern District of California alleging that it violated the federal wiretapping statute when it intercepted wireless network traffic while gathering images for its Street View service.

On June 29, 2011, the U.S. District Court handed Google a major defeat by denying its motion to dismiss, holding that Google’s alleged interception of data packets transmitted over personal Wi-Fi networks adequately states a violation of the wiretap act. Key to the Court’s ruling was its finding that an exception to the law’s coverage for transmissions that are “readily accessible to the general public” did not apply to Google’s interception of transmissions over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks because, although “the general public may join the network and readily transmit electronic communications across that network to the Internet, Plaintiffs plead that the networks were themselves configured to render the data packets, or electronic communications, unreadable and inaccessible without the use of rare packet sniffing software”. The order is posted here: Order in Google Class Action.

The Court’s decision is a landmark victory in the fight to protect individual electronic privacy rights, and it clears the way for the case to proceed against Google. The full extent of Google’s activity will likely be a subject of discovery as the case progresses. The wiretapping act provides for a variety of remedies, including potential punitive damages and statutory damages and attorney fees.