Court: Google must face wiretapping suit over Wi-Fi snooping

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From 2007 to 2010, Google cars collected data from nearby unsecured Wi-Fi networks as they drove through neighborhoods taking pictures for the company's Google Maps Street View project. The data included Internet activity, passwords and other personal information.

At first, the company said the data collection was unintentional, then said it was the work of a lone engineer who was acting without authorization.

The Federal Communications Commission investigated the incident but could not conclude whether Google had violated any laws. The company did not break into any password-protected Wi-Fi networks; it only collected unsecured information being transmitted over nearby Wi-Fi networks. 

But a group of users sued, claiming that Google had illegally intercepted their private information. The company argued it was exempt from the wiretapping ban because the information was “readily accessible to the general public.”

But the court rejected Google's argument, concluding that most members of the "general public" lack the technical expertise to intercept information being transmitted over Wi-Fi networks.

"Even if it is commonplace for members of the general public to connect to a neighbor’s unencrypted Wi-Fi network, members of the general public do not typically mistakenly intercept, store, and decode data transmitted by other devices on the network," the court wrote.