(CN) – A federal judge will allow the plaintiffs in a class action accusing Google of collecting unencrypted WiFi data through its Street View vehicles to see the results of a search of the company’s Street View data.
Google admitted in 2010 that its vehicles, which began mapping American roads in 2007, inadvertently collected usernames, passwords and emails from unprotected personal and business wireless networks as they snapped photographs and collected GPS data.
Lead plaintiff Benjamin Joffe filed a class action against Google, accusing it of violating the federal Wiretap Act, which prohibits the interception of “wire, oral, or electronic communication.”
Joffe and the other plaintiffs hoped to find “a needle in the haystack” – evidence of their communications that would help them to demonstrate standing – by searching through Google’s Street View data.
Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James issued a Report and Recommendation as to how the Street View data should be searched. She recommended that the court appoint a special master to conduct the search, and to use “Google’s Jurisdictional Discovery Proposal for selection of the special master, development of protocol and depositing of information, and all related matters.”
Plaintiffs objected to the recommendation because they say that Google’s discovery proposal improperly limits the special master’s searches of the Street View Data to the point of interception.
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer agreed, noting that the “case was brought on behalf of ‘[a]ll persons in the United States whose electronic communications sent or received on wireless internet connections were intercepted by defendant Google Street View vehicles.'” (Emphasis in original.)
In addition to including each of plaintiff’s networks from which communications might have been sent, the search should also include any other network on which their communications might have been received.
Breyer also agreed with plaintiffs’ argument that the special master should be required to share each result with them to determine whether any of their communications are among those returned by the search.
“Plaintiffs have persuasively argued that the Street View Data is ‘not susceptible to a simple “keyword” search,’ and instead requires plaintiffs to ‘study the data, review search results, and develop new strategies based on what they find or what they learn about the data,'” Breyer said.
However, Breyer rejected plaintiffs’ argument that Google should not be allowed to participate in the formulation of the searches. They claimed that Google would only delay and interfere with their ability to find the intercepted communications.
“If plaintiffs’ predictions bear out, plaintiffs may raise this issue again with Judge James. In the meantime, the court has every expectation that the parties will work together to facilitate the Special Master’s task and to accomplish the discovery this court has ordered,” Breyer said.
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