Google's Street View privacy woes may be headed all the way to the Supreme Court. After a long legal battle, this week Google asked the country's highest court to dismiss one of the lawsuits against Google Street View. It's still unclear whether the Supreme Court will hear the case, but if it does, the ruling could have major ramifications for the privacy of unprotected Wi-Fi networks.
Google maintains the Wi-Fi sniffing was not illegal
The case centers on Street View's Wi-Fi sniffing program, which would automatically scan unencrypted networks for Street View cars as a way of verifying the car's location. Many saw the program as a violation of privacy, which led to a series of lawsuits by both states and individuals. Google ultimately deleted all the data collected in this manner, and the FCC cleared them of any direct wrongdoing. Google maintains the Wi-Fi sniffing was not illegal, claiming the signals were "readily available to the public," but in September, a federal appeals court pushed forward a class action lawsuit against them opening the company up to further liability. This week's motion would move the case even higher, asking the Supreme Court to overturn the appeals court and dismiss the class action suit once and for all.
At the center of the case is the question of how public unencrypted Wi-Fi signals really are. Google's claim is that, since no one bothered to password-protect their network, the information on it was effectively public and not subject to the Wiretap Act that provides the basis of the company's charges. The appeals court is more skeptical, pointing out that the company's case relies on a decades-old definition of "radio communication," which may not include local Wi-Fi signals. It's a thorny issue, but a Supreme Court ruling could provide a powerful new precedent. The next round of arguments is set for April 30th, after which the court will decide whether to hear the case.