Google Likely Broke No Laws in Street View Data Collection
NEWS ANALYSIS: The current federal law governing collection of data broadcast over the air doesn't really cover WiFi that's not encrypted. The Communication Act of 1934 makes it clear that intercepting and reading WiFi signals isn't illegal if the router transmissions aren't encrypted.Rather than buying into the hype surrounding the Federal Communications Commission's investigation of how Google conducted its controversial Street View survey, let's start with a few facts. I know that many of you, especially those who think of themselves as privacy advocates, are going to hate what I have to say. But the truth is Google did not break the law in the United States when it collected WiFi access point data. While it certainly did nothing to make the FCC's investigation easier (thus the $25,000 fine for obstructing the probe), it's not even clear that the law required Google to help the FCC.
So here are the facts. First, WiFi signals are unlicensed radio transmissions. While intercepting private radio transmissions isn't legal, that's only when those transmissions are clearly intended to be private. In its examination of the Wiretap Act, the FCC noted that the Act provides, It shall not be unlawful under this chapter or chapter 121 of this title for any person ... to intercept or access an electronic communication made through an electronic communication system that is configured so that such electronic communication is readily accessible to the general public.