A lawsuit is underway in a San Francisco federal court that could have long reaching consequences for Google and its users.
After admitting that its Google Street View cars gathered personal information while they scanned Wi-Fi networks, several lawsuits have been brought against the Internet giant. But one lawsuit could dwarf all previous attempts in both scope and punitive damages. The suit alleges that Google captured private information along with Wi-Fi network information as part of its Street View sweeps. In September, Google’s argument that unsecured information obtained from wireless routers was exempt from the Wiretap Act, was rejected by the U.S. 9th Circuit court of Appeals.
Now, the case may hinge on data contained on hard drives currently held in a San Francisco courthouse. If analysis of these drives yields personal data, Google could ultimately be found in violation of federal wiretapping laws and subject to considerable fines. If no personal information is found, it will be much harder for plaintiffs to claim damages under the Wiretap Act and the lawsuit may fizzle.
Concerns over the personal information that could be gathered as part of their Street View feature have been mounting since Google announced the technology in 2007. They have already been fined several times both in the United States and in Europe. But if Google is found to have obtained personal information and the current case is allowed to move forward and obtains class action status, Google could face considerable fines. Lawyers are seeking up to $10,000 per affected user. And with millions of Americans possibly affected, the final tally would amount to billions of dollars.
If Google were to lose this case, the ramifications could also reach far beyond Google’s walls and land in hotel lobbies, coffee shops and businesses that offer free Wi-Fi to their customers.
The case can be found under “In Re Google Street View Electronic Communications Litigation, 10-cv-02184, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco)”Source: Bloomberg