The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from Google involving the company’s Street View data collection initiatives in the past few years, meaning that Google will now likely go to trial as a defendant in connection with several privacy-infringement lawsuits that have been filed against it.
The high court’s decision not to hear the Google appeal was reported June 30 by The New York Times.
Google’s Street View imaging program came under scrutiny both in the United States and in Europe after it was learned that Google was gathering the information street by street between 2007 and 2010, according to previous eWEEK reports. The company apparently collected unsecured WiFi data as the vehicles drove around cities and neighborhoods, including personal information such as passwords, emails, text messages, users’ Internet usage histories and other information, which was retrievable from unsecured home and business networks. According to a 2012 report from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, the Street View vehicles had collected more than 200GB of such payload data.
Google officials maintained that the data on the WiFi networks was being used to help Google create better location-based services, after initially denying that payload data had been collected. They later admitted that the Street View cars had collected such personal information and laid the blame at the feet of a rogue engineer whom they said put that capability into the software on his own accord.
Several lawsuits were filed by plaintiffs, meanwhile, who complained that Google’s actions were invasive and violated federal wiretapping laws.
Google has already lost several previous legal rounds in the matter, including an appeal in California in September 2013, which is how it ended up recently before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The rejection of the latest appeal before the Supreme Court means that the case will return to a lower court for action, the Times reported.
In response to an email inquiry from eWEEK, a Google spokesman said, “We’re disappointed that the Supreme Court has declined to hear the case.”
Marc Rotenberg, the president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a Washington-based privacy research group, told eWEEK in an email that the high court’s rejection of the Google appeal is “an important victory” for Internet users. “Google had claimed a right to intercept and collect communications from private, residential WiFi networks,” said Rotenberg. “A federal appeals court determined that Google had violated the federal wiretap act, and the Supreme Court left that decision in place.”
Since the case began, Google has been arguing that its conduct was not intrusive and that it had simply collected information that was not secured and therefore freely available.
In April 2013, Google was hit with an $189,167 fine in Germany for Street View data collection that occurred there without disclosure to affected residents as Street View vehicles combed German streets collecting information for its maps from 2007 to 2010.
German officials were the first to uncover Google’s collection of such data from WiFi routers in Germany back in 2010. Soon after, Google said it had collected similar information through Street View in other nations around the world.
A similar case in the United States was resolved in March 2013 when a $7 million settlement was reached between Google and the U.S. government to end a probe into the Street View imaging program, which for three years collected personal information on users wirelessly as the Street View vehicles drove around taking photographs. The $7 million fine against Google was designed to resolve investigations that were under way by some 30 state attorneys general over the controversial Street View program.