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Google Privacy Wireless Networking

Court Declares Google Must Face Wiretap Charges For Wi-Fi Snooping 214

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the sergey-brin-peering-through-your-window dept.
New submitter Maser_24 writes with news about continued action against Google for snooping on unsecured Wi-Fi networks when collecting data for Street View. From the article: "A federal appeals court this week ruled that Google could be held liable for civil damages for the company's 2011 scandal involving the company's collection of Wi-Fi data from unsecured hotspots using their Street View vehicles. To come to that conclusion, the court followed a rather unique logic path; according to the court, unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots are not 'radio communications' that are 'readily accessible' to the general public and therefore Google violated the Wiretap Act." This despite being cleared of wrongdoing by the FCC.
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Court Declares Google Must Face Wiretap Charges For Wi-Fi Snooping

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  • Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @09:17AM (#44818795)
    Now charge the NSA for requesting that they do that.
    • Re:Good. (Score:5, Funny)

      by Dunbal (464142) * on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @09:22AM (#44818853)
      Yeah how about trying "We were ordered to do it by the US government and we can't give you details because a) national security and b) gag order". Seems to work for the government, why can't it work for Google?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by slash.jit (2893213)

        Also Why not have lawsuits against NSA and force them to pay the civil damages for spying on american people.

        • by GodInHell (258915)
          Sovereign Immunity. See Wiki article. [wikipedia.org]

          The Federal Government is only susceptible to a civil action against it if the Government creates a specific exception to sovereign immunity. You might bring a civil liberties claim (1983) but that's going to require proof that the agent or agents knew what they were doing was unconstitutional - the law must be well established - generally anything that requires an appeal to decide the state of the law is going to auto-fail there.
        • Also Why not have lawsuits against NSA and force them to pay the civil damages for spying on american people.

          What the NSA was doing was approved via a Warrant by the FISA Courts

          This wasn't a case of the NSA going off and doing something unsupervised, they requested and had permission from US Judges for what they were doing.

          As such, they would probably be immune from damages

          • by sjames (1099)

            Actually, according to the FISA court, not all of the NSA's actions were authorized. The court then went on to state that the NSA was beyond their ability to control it since it was lying to them freely.

            • Some legal professors, who know more than I do, think the court was a little insane with their suggestion that the NSA was lying to them

              http://www.volokh.com/2013/09/11/fisa-uncanny-valley-article-iii/ [volokh.com]

              • by sjames (1099)

                We know for a fact that they lied to congress and to the press, why not to the FISA court? In for a penny...

                As for the link, the writing is thoughtful, but I must respectfully disagree. The very fact that the data was collected at all prior to authorization is a problem. That in itself is not at all standard procedure for anything of this nature. The police don't get to search your house without suspicion, photograph everything and put it in a sealed box promising to only open it if they later suspect you o

        • How about for copyright infringement? Even non-commercial copyright infringement is illegal.

      • Yeah how about trying "We were ordered to do it by the US government and we can't give you details because a) national security and b) gag order". Seems to work for the government, why can't it work for Google?

        Because the government will be able to declare in court that they didn't do it, and Google won't have proof that they did?

        • by Ioldanach (88584)

          Yeah how about trying "We were ordered to do it by the US government and we can't give you details because a) national security and b) gag order". Seems to work for the government, why can't it work for Google?

          Because the government will be able to declare in court that they didn't do it, and Google won't have proof that they did?

          That's covered, because the gag order gags itself, so you can't show it to the court.

        • Like who is going to believe the government these days?
      • by Bigby (659157)

        Ironically, the Constitution only disallows the government (including the NSA) from broad wiretapping (illegal search). The private wiretapping laws are just laws...not the supreme law of the land. So being ordered to do it by the US government would make the breaking of the law even more blatant and damaging.

      • by egamma (572162)

        Yeah how about trying "We were ordered to do it by the US government and we can't give you details because a) national security and b) gag order". Seems to work for the government, why can't it work for Google?

        Because they've had 2 years to make that argument, and making it now isn't credible?

    • by TWiTfan (2887093)

      How about just charge the NSA in general for illegal spying?

    • At this point I don't even care if Google did it on purpose (probably not, seems like a classic "testing code left in production version" mistake), this is like going after a guy who stole a bottle of Thunderbird instead of Bernie Madoff.

  • You can't do that - that's the govern... no. You know what? I'm better than that. Somebody else can take the low hanging fruit.

    • by Trepidity (597)

      Since this is the 3rd comment on the post and all three comments are basically that, I would say the low-hanging fruit is rapidly being devoured...

  • no no no.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @09:22AM (#44818855) Homepage Journal

    Bad logic that is favorable to your agenda is still bad logic.

    Twisting logic is what I get mad at the "other guy" for. Don't tolerate it.

    • Re:no no no.... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @01:49PM (#44821741)

      "Bad logic that is favorable to your agenda is still bad logic.

      Twisting logic is what I get mad at the "other guy" for. Don't tolerate it."

      It isn't bad logic if you understand what this is about.

      Privacy laws are generally based on "intent", and "reasonable expectation of privacy". Sometimes those things intersect, sometimes they are at odds.

      The LOCATION of a wifi router is pretty much accepted as public information. Here is a router. It transmits. It sends out its MAC address.

      The CONTENT of the data it sends, however, is a different matter.

      For many years, a large percentage of the population -- possibly even the majority -- did not know or care enough about the details of WiFi communication to secure their routers. Because that was true of so many people, it can be argued that it was "reasonable" for them to expect that their communications were private.

      If their communications were intended to be private (i.e., it wasn't intended to be an open access point with a name like "Come Get Me, I'm Free!", and there was a "reasonable expectation of privacy" (again reasonable being inferred from the simple fact that it was true of so many people), THEN Google was illegally intercepting private communications.

      You and I might think that not bothering to learn enough about it to know you should secure your router is not reasonable. But that's not the way the law works. If an "average" person commonly does it, it's considered reasonable.

  • Terrible Ruling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by laing (303349) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @09:26AM (#44818913)
    Unencrypted RF communications should be fair game for anyone to receive and record. The fact that it's digital seems to be what swayed the judges in this case. I can't for the life of me understand how this could have happened. I'm not in favor Google's actions, but they were not illegal. Now the law has been twisted and there will be unintended consequences.
    • by Albanach (527650)

      I can't for the life of me understand how this could have happened.

      You could try reading the opinion. The judges do explain their reasoning.

      It goes something like this.

      "Radio communication" is not defined in the Act's definitions section.

      To define it the court uses predetermined rules of construction - the idea being to ensure people reading an act of Congress should be able to anticipate how it will be interpreted.

      In this instance they use the ordinary meaning of the word "radio communication" at the time

      • Which, I presume, means a very poor understanding of radio. Would Morse Code have not been radio communication? Because it's digital (trinary), unencrypted, and not a commercial broadcast.

        • by Zironic (1112127)

          It has nothing to do with how radio works, they give no fucks, it has everything with what the user of the radio expects. Laws are by and large written to apply to people, not technology.

        • by lgw (121541)

          Courts don't, will never, and should never care about geeky details about how technology works. That's supremely unimportant. What's important is the intent of the humans involved, and the pre-established rules for resolving cases where intent is unclear.

          The court ruled, quite reasonably IMO, that the congress meant specifically commercial-style public broadcasts, which home wifi isn't.

          More importantly, just because you can do a thing doesn't mean you should do a thing. An unsecured wifi is not an invita

    • Seconded. Google isn't the paragon of perfection that many believe them to be, but they are better than a majority of the industry players, but this is a bogus charge. If you want your data secure, then secure it. Insurance companies won't pay for stolen vehicle claims when the driver leaves the keys in the ignition with the doors unlocked, and Google shouldn't be smacked for receiving a signal that is broadcast to everyone in cleartext through the ether. This is really just an excuse for some tort lawy

    • It gets worse, if your computing device remembers access points it has encountered before, under this interpretation, you're committing a crime.
    • I believe the difference they are pointing out is that FM / AM, police, fire, etc. are broadcasting out and are 'readily available', whereas with WiFi is broadcasting but is not readily available to the general public, most of the time it is encrypted and meant just for yourself. This ruling is saying people who want to sue Google, are allowed to, because they were not broadcasting for the same purpose as the other technologies mentioned above.

      From the actual summary of the court ruling: [documentcloud.org]
      Wiretap Act
      The pan

    • There is precedent in the special restrictions placed on recording analog cell phone communication which were/are freely audible in the clear with a suitable tuner*. The solution of the powers that be was to classify recordings of cell phone traffic as equivalent to wiretaps. They are extending that analogy to intercepting wifi data, even that which is purposely broadcast for the purpose of network discovery and identification.

      Curiously, the government now doesn't want this concept of "reasonable expectatio

    • A brilliant bit of pilpul: the statute is supposed to be read using the "ordinary meaning" of terms like radio. As radio can be distinguished from television in ordinary usage, radio waves therefor do not include television waves, do not include wifi waves, etc. Therefor wifi is not radio, and doesn't have the radio exception, even though it uses radio frequency electromagnetic waves.

      The counter-argument is that in common usage and in the language used in the statute, the term "radio" includes "radio wa

  • by killfixx (148785) * on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @09:27AM (#44818929) Journal

    That's exactly what this is... In no uncertain terms!

    Fuck... Pot, meet Kettle...

    WiFi is explicitly radio... and it's readily accessible without any intervention on the users behalf...

    I regularly connect to unsecured hotspots without even meaning to...

    Blah...

    I can't even express how utterly exasperated I am with our government...and the people that keep them in office...

    God damn...

    Well, there's one thing our government is good at, learning from past mistakes... Those gladiatorial games were great inspiration for our current raft of "populace pacification techniques"... TV, sports, and (to a lesser extent) religion...

    When will we wake up... When will the common man stand his ground and tell those in power to go fuck themselves? When?

    • When will we wake up... When will the common man stand his ground and tell those in power to go fuck themselves? When?

      Historically, these things don't change with the common man. In 1775, about 17-18% of the American Colonists were secessionists, about 10% were loyalists, and the rest just went along with the status quo.

    • by Control-Z (321144)

      And the best part is, we are paying for this litigation!

  • Really now? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JustAnotherIdiot (1980292) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @09:28AM (#44818937)

    "unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots are not 'radio communications' that are 'readily accessible' to the general public

    Every single apartment complex I've lived in/visited would say otherwise.

    • Re:Really now? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @11:37AM (#44820401)

      Every single apartment complex I've lived in/visited would say otherwise.

      Yes, but you may recall that a few days ago Google said it was accelerating its VPN and encryption rollout to frustrate the NSA. The NSA made a phone call to the DOJ. They're one big happy family you know. So now Google will be punished in a roundabout fashion for daring to piss in the NSA's cheerios.

    • by Jawnn (445279)

      "unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots are not 'radio communications' that are 'readily accessible' to the general public

      Every single apartment complex I've lived in/visited would say otherwise.

      So do the unsecured WiFi routers/AP's themselves. In fact, they broadcast their invitations to "come use me" to the world. Did someone actually fail to point out this plain fact for the court?

  • by foxalopex (522681) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @09:32AM (#44818973)

    Maybe I'm a little off on my law but civil damages are when people sue each other. So it makes sense if Google used the information in some way that hurt you then you have the right to sue Google for damages. In Canada, for a while when cellphone calls were not encrypted, it was perfectly legal to listen to the calls provided you did not use the information gleamed off that to benefit in any way. Google to the best of our knowledge deleted this information or no longer has it so what exactly would you be suing Google for? How did Google collecting this information harm you or how in the world are you ever going to prove that?

    • IANAL, but this is a court of appeals decision. It has very little to do with whether or not Google's actions in this particular case could have harmed someone or that someone could prove that damages were done. The decision is about forging case law that will show that anybody that does this sort of thing can be held liable for damages. That doesn't mean the plaintiff doesn't have to prove his or her case, merely that it's completely valid to bring such a case before the court.

      That is to say, this rulin

  • the more of a target you become..
  • I like how there is a story on slashdot about Google making high level encryption that the NSA cannot penetrate. Then a few stories later is the government taking Google to court for something serious. Don't mess with the government.
  • What the fuck? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wolrahnaes (632574) <seanNO@SPAMseanharlow.info> on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @09:34AM (#44818997) Homepage Journal

    How in the hell are WiFi networks not "radio communications" which are "readily accessible"? What fucked up, distorted logic led to this?

    I hope I don't have to explain how they are radio communications, if that's not obvious to anyone please go play with crayons in the corner.

    As for readily accessible, when the vast majority of WiFi-equipped PCs and most mobile devices need nothing more than software which simply asks the wireless card to pass through what it sees, uh yes, it is readily accessible.

    It's like arguing that since FRS radios typically default to channels 1 or 14 when turned on, channel 6 is not readily accessible. Sure you don't get it without asking, but its about as easy as it could possibly be.

    • How in the hell are WiFi networks not "radio communications" which are "readily accessible"? What fucked up, distorted logic led to this?

      Common sense logic as used by non-geeks who are not fixated on literal interpretations. For example, you believe that PCs and mobile devices talking to each other constitutes "communications", while the non-geek would say that "communications" requires two living entities talking to each other. You say yourself that you need a WiFi equipped PC and some software - that's not "readily available".

      • Common sense logic as used by non-geeks who are not fixated on literal interpretations.

        Kind of hard to have a just law where you don't apply a reasonably literal interpretation.

        while the non-geek would say that "communications" requires two living entities talking to each other

        So by that logic if two people do anything other than talk to each other face to face then they are not communicating?

        You say yourself that you need a WiFi equipped PC and some software - that's not "readily available".

        What color is the sky on your planet where wifi equipped PCs and related software are not readily available? I have at least 100 wifi equipped devices (including PCs) within 50 meters of me as I type this. Heck I carry such a device with me pretty much everywhere I go.

        • by Intropy (2009018)

          Your honor, I didn't say anything. I was merely vibrating the air as is my custom.

        • So by that logic if two people do anything other than talk to each other face to face then they are not communicating?

          That's again the geek talking, sounding like a bit of asperger, demanding that everything is either black or white. "Communication" is the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing or using another medium - important is, it is communication between people. No word about it having to be talk, and face-to-face.

          And now the bummer: If my neighbours have an unsecured WiFi network, I can easily use my Mac to connect to their network and leech off their broadband connection. I can _not_ easily

    • The courts don't apply logic. They apply the law. The two are vastly different animals.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        But they didn't apply the law. Probably becasue they aren't versed with unlicensed radio spectrum laws.

        • Actually, if you read the opinion they did something they always do, which they claim does follow the law exactly. Their position is that the law makers meant one thing and wrote another due to lack of a clue. In other words, in this case, they are saying that "radio communication" is not "communication via radio signals", but rather radio station broadcasts. Their basic argument is what it always has been, to wit: "sure that is what they said if you take it literally, but they clearly meant it to mean w
          • Problem with the Court's argument, radar detectors in cars

            The legality of radar detectors rests on the radio broadcast exception "if you broadcast it, someone else can listen to it".

            If police agencies can argue that radar detectors are "illegal wiretapping" devices because they didn't intend for someone to receive their broadcasts, a lot of people are going to be charged with wiretapping.

            • Radar detectors detect the presence of a signal. They don't decode and record it.
    • It looks like the courts said "Radio means that it plays sound. Since data doesn't play sound, it isn't radio. Therefore the WiFi networks (traveling via radio communications) aren't actually radio at all." Nothing like a verdict that completely ignores the basic facts of the matter in exchange for a judge's twisted understanding.

  • And rake in the profits citing this case!
  • Is Google getting hit with this because they asked for an open, public hearing with another court so that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court could be publicly debated [slashdot.org]? Seems like the deck is stacked against them.

    How an unencrypted, largely unregulated band transmissions cannot be considered 'radio communications' that are 'readily accessible' simply makes no sense. If I have a wireless network that is blasting out huge wattage, the FCC would get involved. So it is radio communications, which can

  • USA! USA! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by organgtool (966989) on Wednesday September 11, 2013 @09:53AM (#44819175)
    So the NSA is performing actual wiretaps and widescale data collection which violates the Constitution and they are facing absolutely no penalties or even pressure from any other branch of government to stop this behavior yet Google is being punished for "wiretapping" by collecting information that was voluntarily broadcasted on public airwaves. At first this didn't make any sense until I remembered Google's recent efforts to encrypt users' data to make it tougher to be collected by government agencies. I guess that's the price they're going to pay for trying to force the government to obey its own Constitution.
  • "We were acting on orders from the NSA. But we can't share that information with you."

  • What damages did someone transmitting their information in plaintext suffer when Google picked up what they were transmitting?

    If they want to sue someone, sue the Wifi equipment manufacturers that used to make open networks the default setting.

  • I know Google has a lot of computational prowess when it comes to user data, so I say with some hesitation that this ruling makes no sense.

    Isn't readily accessible? In five minutes, any member of the "public" can get a laptop, find an open hotspot and run Wireshark in promiscuous mode. Sounds "readily" to me.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Traditionally, if access require special tools it isn't considered readily available.

      In this case it would mean not needing a password to access.

  • Obviously the judge lacks a Pringels can. I can't imagine a signal that is not more accessible by the public.

  • Don't become a huge company, and piss off the feds.

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