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

Unknown Lamer posted about 7 months ago | from the sergey-brin-peering-through-your-window dept.

Google 214

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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214 comments

Good. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44818795)

Now charge the NSA for requesting that they do that.

Re:Good. (5, Funny)

Dunbal (464142) | about 7 months ago | (#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:Good. (3, Insightful)

slash.jit (2893213) | about 7 months ago | (#44818901)

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

Re:Good. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819047)

Launch a class suit for emotional distress for the 300 million people.

may you live in interesting times (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819119)

isn't fascism fun?!!!

And how is working hand-in-glove with the NSA fit with google's vision statement of "do no evil"?

Re: may you live in interesting times (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819735)

Vision statements are marketing fluff. Seriously, does anybody at your workplace view them as anything else?

Re:Good. (1)

cold fjord (826450) | about 7 months ago | (#44819197)

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?

Re:Good. (1)

Ioldanach (88584) | about 7 months ago | (#44819221)

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.

Re:Good. (2)

Bigby (659157) | about 7 months ago | (#44819571)

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.

Re:Good. (0)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | about 7 months ago | (#44819647)

Next time could you please wipe the residue off before you post something that you pulled out of your ass. Thanks in advance on the behalf of informed, educated, intelligent people everywhere.

Re: Good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819759)

pot meet kettle

Re:Good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819973)

But, the FISA Amendement provides immunity to communications and internet companies acting on behalf on the NSA. I wouldn't be suprised if Obama claimed state secrets and shut down the civil suit.

Moreover, do gag orders apply when giving testimony or deposition?

Re:Good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819689)

Because gag-orders aren't legal and worked for the government trough a failure of the legal system.
While I expect the legal system to fail again if the government asks I wouldn't count on it when it comes to private companies.

Re:Good. (1)

egamma (572162) | about 7 months ago | (#44819717)

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?

Re:Good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44820043)

Well they couldn't make that argument earlier, could they? Because of the gag order, of course!

Re:Good. (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 7 months ago | (#44819327)

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.

Re:Good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819333)

You see what happens Larry? You see what happens? This is what happens when PR tries to *#+! the NSA in the ass, Larry!

Re:Good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819695)

that is why they are being threatened because they hinted the NSA ask them do things like

So let me get this straight... (1)

SBJ95 (992570) | about 7 months ago | (#44818797)

Federal government wiretaps Google, no problem. Google "wiretaps", federal government throws a hissyfit.

Re:So let me get this straight... (1)

iserlohn (49556) | about 7 months ago | (#44818837)

The government isn't just one guy you know.

Re:So let me get this straight... (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about 7 months ago | (#44818899)

gubbimt... simultaneously the smartest guys EVAR and the dumbest people in the room.

Incapable of doing anything correctly and still able to commit the biggest conspiracies ever known.

People dislike government... that's fine, but try to have some clarity in your thinking. If you think it through maybe you'll see it's not an all or nothing problem. Take the powers away that need to be taken away and give the ones that are needed to keep a decent society.

Re:So let me get this straight... (1)

P-niiice (1703362) | about 7 months ago | (#44819091)

Government is Americans so your whole post it idiocy unless you feel that way about America as a whole.

Re:So let me get this straight... (1)

P-niiice (1703362) | about 7 months ago | (#44819069)

put the 4,857,326 people on trial and give them community service after paying a small fee down at the window over there

You Can't Do That! (1)

Petersko (564140) | about 7 months ago | (#44818805)

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.

Re:You Can't Do That! (1)

Trepidity (597) | about 7 months ago | (#44818833)

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...

Meanwhile... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44818809)

... the government wiretaps everything and everyone.

The hypocrisy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44818819)

When are we taking our government to court for spying on all citizens?

Re:The hypocrisy (1)

SirGarlon (845873) | about 7 months ago | (#44818927)

When are we taking our government to court for spying on all citizens?

Only when it lets us [wikipedia.org] , meaning, when hell freezes over.

Re:The hypocrisy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819795)

Sovereign immunity doesn't apply when there is a constitutional question though. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Implied_cause_of_action and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bivens_v._Six_Unknown_Named_Agents.

no no no.... (3, Insightful)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about 7 months ago | (#44818855)

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.

The system works? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44818877)

I told you so!

Terrible Ruling (5, Insightful)

laing (303349) | about 7 months ago | (#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.

Judges untrained in comms technology, that's how.. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819043)

Unencrypted RF comms *are* fair game for anyone to receive, though recording them is often illegal (notably, recording cell phone calls off the air is, quite reasonably, prohibited). This ruling results from judges being experts in the law but ignorant of the facts of modern radio technology. I rather expect this to be appealed to the Nine In Black, who may or may not have a clue, but who are at least much better briefed than some appeals judges. Perverse and head-banging court rulings are unavoidable in even the best judicial systems, alas.

That said, I do expect this ruling to be overturned, as it is plainly dumber than chocolate pants. WiFi IS radio communications, and an open WiFi hotspot can be trivially snooped with standard commercial gear, so it IS readily accessible. If you wanted a reasonable expectation of privacy, you'd turn on encryption, also available as standard equipment, or at least use a secured connection protocol. Using an open hotspot with unencrypted HTTP is no more private than conversing over an FRS walkie-talkie.

Absent gods, but I miss Groklaw just about now...

Re:Judges untrained in comms technology, that's ho (5, Informative)

laing (303349) | about 7 months ago | (#44819341)

Analog cellular phone calls are covered by a separate law (The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986). It not only makes it illegal to record them, it makes it illegal to sell a radio that can receive them (or be easily modified to receive them). Thankfully all mobile phones are digital now. Unfortunately that law is still on the books.
Another court case conflicts with the Google ruling. Back when they were in popular use, the police sometimes recorded wireless phone calls from 46/49 MHz cordless phones (without a warrant). The police used these recordings in court to convict a drug dealer and the drug dealer argued that the communications were private. The courts ruled that they were not. Here [uscourts.gov] is the court ruling from this case:

Re:Terrible Ruling (1)

Albanach (527650) | about 7 months ago | (#44819217)

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 Congress passed the Act, and look to Congress's other actions for additional guidance.

The court held that "radio communication" at that time would commonly be intended to refer to stuff like radio shows on FM. he court acknowledges that lots of other things happen with radio, and sees that Congress has not typically assumed "radio" to also encompass things such as television broadcasts.

Therefore the court believes that, when Congress passed the act, they were only thinking about audio radio broadcasts.

Of course you can disagree with their reasoning, but as for how they got there, the reasoning itself is pretty well explained.

Re:Terrible Ruling (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 7 months ago | (#44819971)

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.

Re:Terrible Ruling (1)

Zironic (1112127) | about 7 months ago | (#44820075)

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.

Re:Terrible Ruling (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819503)

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.

"unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots are not 'radio communications' that are 'readily accessible' to the general public"
What part of that don't you understand? Accessing a radio signal requires two things -- a compatible radio, and the knowledge of how to use it. You and I have the technical knowledge to use the 2.4GHz radios we have to access such signals, but the general public, despite having mostly the same 2.4 GHz radios (Yeah, I have a WiSpy and an Ubertooth One and stuff, but those aren't what I'd use for an 802.11b/g/n AP anyhow), don't have the know-how, so they have created an expectation of privacy through their own ignorance!

(Actually, it's more to do with the judge interpretating "radio communication" to only mean audio signals, but I like the preceding version better.)

Readily Accessible (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 7 months ago | (#44820011)

You mean "readily accessible" as in "I can understand it by hearing an audio facsimile" (as the Judge implied) or "readily accessible" as in anyone with a smart phone can access without even pressing a single button - you walk near the transmitter and magical pages of information come up on my phone at my whim. Would Morse Code be not "readily accessible" since few people today use Morse Code, because it's an unencrypted digital (trinary) transmission, but would have certainly been considered fair game back when the law was written?

Re:Terrible Ruling (1)

chuckinator (2409512) | about 7 months ago | (#44819747)

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 lawyers to rake in a payday, not send a message to people to be morally correct in their business dealings.

User admin with password admin on SSID linksys in the wild is as incompetent than simply failing to install doorknobs and deadbolts on your house. I understand that everyone can't be an expert at everything, but you should atleast consult with someone that does know the basics to help you install your wi-fi router with the minimum security enabled.

Worse .... (1)

kawabago (551139) | about 7 months ago | (#44820129)

It gets worse, if your computing device remembers access points it has encountered before, under this interpretation, you're committing a crime.

And they're right (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44818917)

Wi-Fi communications are not radio communications. They utilize the radio frequency, but you need a little more signal processing than a wire hooked up to a speaker. Until wireless cards are "readily accessible" open WiFi still requires some effort, and intention, to access.

Re:And they're right (2)

hypergreatthing (254983) | about 7 months ago | (#44818955)

wifi is radio. I could tune into them using a reciever in the 2.4 ghz range easily. I can even use a dsp to decode it via soft radio, and respond to the messages. anything that uses the radio spectrum is radio. Morse code is the same thing as wifi, just 1000x slower.

Re:And they're right (1)

Michael Casavant (2876793) | about 7 months ago | (#44819951)

Morse code is the same thing as wifi, just 1000x slower.

Your analogy is wrong. Morse code is the communication protocol, WiFi (802.11a/b/g/n) is a specification.

802.11 is roughly equivalent to FCC Part 97
Morse code is roughly equivalent to TCP/IP

Wifi uses radio, just like CB, Amatuer Radio, FRS

Re:And they're right (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 7 months ago | (#44819271)

Until wireless cards are "readily accessible" open WiFi still requires some effort, and intention, to access.

Practically every cell phone and laptop are WiFi capable, as are quite a number of tablets, cameras, printers, and televisions. Heck, there's even exercise equipment with WiFi. Accessing open WiFi takes no more effort than tuning in a shortwave broadcast does.

Not radio communications? WTF?! (5, Insightful)

killfixx (148785) | about 7 months ago | (#44818929)

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?

Good citizens secure their communications. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819111)

I know right, this is the point of wi-fi and there is encryption if you don't want to share it. The only reason I can think for establishing some legal precedent against this openness is so they can associate access points (and any piracy or questionable activities) with someone who can be held accountable.

Re:Not radio communications? WTF?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819201)

If you had RTFA you would have realized that the use of the words "radio communications" are not every day vernacular, but specifically mean communications like AM/FM broadcasts and the like. Its more of a legal definition.

This is honestly a good thing, and corresponds with previous legal rulings. If WIFI was a "radio communication" you would have no expectation of privacy under the 4th amendment and the FBI et al. could intercept it at will.

Re:Not radio communications? WTF?! (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 7 months ago | (#44819319)

It's less like CB radios or police bands, and more like early cordless phones and baby monitors, which were unencrypted but people also assume, reasonably, to be private.

The physical matter of how easy it is differs from whether there is an expectation. Unencrypted WiFi and friends falls under that.

Re:Not radio communications? WTF?! (1)

silas_moeckel (234313) | about 7 months ago | (#44820073)

What idiot thinks unsecured wifi is private? Same for baby monitors cordless phones etc. It's one thing if it's trivially encrypted.

Re:Not radio communications? WTF?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44820135)

Wrong. Cordless phones are fair game [uscourts.gov]

Re:Not radio communications? WTF?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44820037)

> When will the common man stand his ground and tell those in power to go fuck themselves? When?

Are you really that angry that the "big bad government" is taking issue with Google riding around and sniffing traffic on unencrypted wireless networks? on a MASSIVE scale?

Really now? (5, Insightful)

JustAnotherIdiot (1980292) | about 7 months ago | (#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? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819687)

I guess I need to make wiser choices in apartment complexes. Around me there is nothing but wpa2 with mac filtering, and some wep encrypted att 1.5mbps dsl.

Charge NSA first .. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44818943)

.. and then go for Google, in that order.

Civil Damages? (2)

foxalopex (522681) | about 7 months ago | (#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?

Re:Civil Damages? (1)

Bacon Bits (926911) | about 7 months ago | (#44819461)

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 ruling affirms civil court jurisdiction, and affirms operators of unencrypted Wi-Fi can show standing for damages in such a court.

Fundamentally: it no longer matters if someone intercepts another's Wi-Fi communication with an intent to profit from it or to damage another. Provided the plaintiff can show standing, the defendant is liable for the damages. The defendant's intent is not relevant.

Re:Civil Damages? (1)

Djyrn (3011821) | about 7 months ago | (#44820013)

Shouldn't it be, "Provided the plaintiff can show standing, the trial can go forward"? IANAL either, but it seems to me that Google will now have to go to trial, and the plaintiffs will have to make their claims stick. I'm not entirely up on the case, but wasn't this all about standing? ... not a response - to lazy to do another post.... The courts position strikes demonstrates a major issue I have with originalism. Arguing that Congress only had a very narrow idea of what radio was just demands a constant rewriting of law or force new technologies into the wild west of civil action. No judgement involved for anyone including judges.

conspicuous (2)

7311587 (755664) | about 7 months ago | (#44818983)

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? (4, Insightful)

wolrahnaes (632574) | about 7 months ago | (#44818997)

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.

Re:What the fuck? (1)

gnasher719 (869701) | about 7 months ago | (#44819369)

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".

Re:What the fuck? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819581)

My phone is constantly telling me: Click here to join WIRE243 hotspot! Click here to join Linksys! How is that not readily available?

Re: What the fuck? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819939)

Your phone isn't automatically connecting and streaming received content on the display. In fact, even if it was automatically connecting, it is not intercepting traffic in a promiscuous mode and recording it.

It's hard to believe all the comments in this thread like the above aren't just disingenuous spam. This is slashdot. We're not supposed to be so ignorant.

Twisted logic (1)

sjbe (173966) | about 7 months ago | (#44819729)

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.

Re:What the fuck? (1)

Jason Levine (196982) | about 7 months ago | (#44820083)

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.

Courts frequently interpret the intent of a law... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819005)

...according to the court, unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots are not 'radio communications' that are 'readily accessible' ...

What the court seems to be thinking is that:

- We will examine the INTENT of the law rather than restrict ourselves to the technical words
- We believe that the intent was that someone who made an open radio transmission would know that it could be intercepted, so cannot expect privacy, since any radio set can pick it up. It's akin to shouting across the street.
- However, someone who is using a wi-fi connection would not necessarily be aware that they were exposing information.
- Therefore, persons who intercept that information using specialist equipment are not 'just overhearing information'. They are acting in a bad faith manner, and are doing something nearer to wiretapping than innocently listening. ...Apparently....

Re:Courts frequently interpret the intent of a law (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about 7 months ago | (#44819099)

Countries legal systems had to find their way around the computer intrusion cases back in the 1980's.
The full force of legal protection was directed at privacy vs some 'damage' case that could be reduced if the network was just 'looked' at.
If only it was just one 'test' in 'one' country ...

Re:Courts frequently interpret the intent of a law (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819597)

...according to the court, unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots are not 'radio communications' that are 'readily accessible' ...

What the court seems to be thinking is that:

- We will examine the INTENT of the law rather than restrict ourselves to the technical words
- We believe that the intent was that someone who made an open radio transmission would know that it could be intercepted, so cannot expect privacy, since any radio set can pick it up. It's akin to shouting across the street.
- However, someone who is using a wi-fi connection would not necessarily be aware that they were exposing information.
- Therefore, persons who intercept that information using specialist equipment are not 'just overhearing information'. They are acting in a bad faith manner, and are doing something nearer to wiretapping than innocently listening. ...Apparently....

So they get to sue Google because they chose not to inform themselves? I suppose there's some "reasonable person" standard involved, where a "reasonable person" in the '80s might be expected to know others could listen in on their CB (after all, it lets multiple people communicate in ad-hoc groups with no prior exchange of information), but a "reasonable person" in the '10s can't be expected to bother learning how Wi-Fi works, because they're too busy facebooking. (*mumble-mumble-idiocracy-mumble*)

I don't dispute the reasoning in a general sense -- e.g. if Google was using some little-known exploit to record data commonly and reasonably supposed to be encrypted, yeah, go get 'em. But there's an inherent value judgement there, about how much of the responsible for informing yourself rests with you, and I think in this case the judge is way off base.

Re: Courts frequently interpret the intent of a la (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819981)

The wifi protocols don't default to a mode where random devices connect in a promiscuous mode and record all traffic seen.

I thought Slashdot was smarter than this.

Re:Courts frequently interpret the intent of a law (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819799)

if 'ignorance of the law is no excuse', then sholdn't 'ignorance of the technology' be similar ?

False distinctions (1)

sjbe (173966) | about 7 months ago | (#44819921)

- We believe that the intent was that someone who made an open radio transmission would know that it could be intercepted, so cannot expect privacy, since any radio set can pick it up. It's akin to shouting across the street. However, someone who is using a wi-fi connection would not necessarily be aware that they were exposing information.

And where the court erred is in thinking there is a difference between these two situations. An unsecured wifi base station IS making open radio transmissions. It is hardly a secret that wifi needs to be secured intentionally. EVERY wifi base station includes instructions on how to secure the base station transmissions. If the owner of the base station cannot be bothered to read those instructions then I cannot fathom how that is anyone else's fault. If you are making a radio transmission of any kind then common logic dictates that it may be intercepted by anyone with the right equipment and it is up to the person transmitting to make reasonable efforts to secure that transmission.

Now if Google was actively cracking secured wifi networks in some manner or using those open wifi connections to transmit their own data then we have a different discussion.

Re:False distinctions (1)

Zironic (1112127) | about 7 months ago | (#44820085)

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.

If most people expect a situation to be private and you listen in, then you're an asshat and the law will usually punish you for it regardless of how easy it was for you to listen. This has nothing to do with the technical details of the situation.

Lesson - Don't be honest and report your mistakes. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819123)

Any companies watching this episode will be highly discouraged from ever being honest in reporting their own errors. No harm had been done. Google engineers re-used some code that had some extra functionality they didn't know about, and it collected sporadic data they didn't care about or intend to gather. When they realized it was happening, instead of just deleting the data, they informed the authorities and asked for permission to delete it. The result? The authorities read the data and put the company through a never ending legal battle that's cost millions.

Who on earth is going to do the right thing after seeing this?

Didn't Share with the NSA? (1)

ScottCooperDotNet (929575) | about 7 months ago | (#44819131)

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 be accessed with a $20 wireless card and a generic PC. Not only are our politicians out of touch with technology, but so are the judges they appoint.

USA! USA! (5, Insightful)

organgtool (966989) | about 7 months ago | (#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.

Re:USA! USA! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819255)

Yep. The USA is a farce. Was just about to make basically the same post.

So now can we charge the police, DHS, NSA ... ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819191)

So, if listening to a broadcast signal without a warrant is illegal, are we going to charge anyone who listens to a radio?

If it's just wi-fi snooping, then maybe we only have to charge DHS, the NSA, and other large men-in-black type outfits?

What civil damages? (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about 7 months ago | (#44819223)

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.

A wealth of encouraging things here (0)

erroneus (253617) | about 7 months ago | (#44819257)

Firstly we have the courts taking a position about the nature of open wireless networks -- specifically that sniffing them does represent an invasion. I think that's pretty big and pretty useful. (It can also get you or your neighbor charged as a felon under the laws about unauthorized computer access...) As many other have pointed out, it opens the door to seeking relief from government invasion by legally identifying what has been done as what it is. Not that I expect serious traction in any sort of rectification of the damage the NSA and others have caused.

Re:A wealth of encouraging things here (1)

SecurityGuy (217807) | about 7 months ago | (#44820123)

I don't like that this line of reasoning encourages people to demonstrably unsafe things on the theory that they can sue or prosecute people later, and that that might deter people from sniffing their traffic. Much better to just tell everyone to secure their communications. The alternative is much like saying the neighbors can go shout their secrets in the street and you are obligated not to listen. Yes, listening in on someone else's unsecured WiFi is harder than listening to a neighbor shout in the streets...but not by much.

Unsecured wifi isn't readily accesable radio comm (1)

Cyfun (667564) | about 7 months ago | (#44819267)

A wifi hotspot isn't "radio communications"?

Per Wikipedia (which is NEVER wrong):
Wi-Fi, also spelled Wifi or WiFi, is a popular technology that allows an electronic device to exchange data or connect to the internet wirelessly using radio waves.

“Wi-Fi transmissions are not 'readily accessible' to the 'general public' because most of the general public lacks the expertise to intercept and decode payload data transmitted over a Wi-Fi network"?

Any idiot with a laptop or wifi-capable cellphone can easily connect to an unsecured WAP by clicking on it, or even automatically as many wireless adapters have been configured to do so. Plus, there's the fact that 802.11 wifi operates on the ISM radio band for unlicensed use. Not to mention if I'm sitting in my home and the radio waves from my neighbor's wifi are entering my home, and I choose to see what they say, this is no different than the neighbor blasting his shitty hiphop music so loud that I can hear the lyrics.

I should also mention that the ISM frequency range is also home to cordless telephones and microwave ovens. So if cooking leftover pizza using an unlicensed radio frequency isn't considered "readily accessible," I don't know what is!

Re:Unsecured wifi isn't readily accesable radio co (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 7 months ago | (#44820053)

I wonder if the Judge would have considered Morse Code a readily accessible transmission at the time of the law's writing. Because Morse is just a digital code (trinary, but digital) transmitted over radio waves. I wonder if Chinese radio transmissions in the US fall outside of "readily accessible," since most Americans don't have the expertise to decode Chinese?

My phone is a wiretap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819305)

So, when my phone scans WiFi and presents me with a list of access points, I have just committed a wiretap.

Every WiFi device (and its user) is now guilty.

Re: My phone is a wiretap (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 7 months ago | (#44820041)

Yes, if you are running special software that doesn't just connect, but does so in a promiscuous mode where it intercepts traffic not addressed to it and records it. Thanks for the opportunity to clear things up.

Simple Retribution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819367)

Google fights the government on National Security Letters, and they need to be slapped down and shown their rightful place. Happened to before (Microsoft), and will probably happen again.

Just out of curiosity, how exactly do people square this with "corporate cronyism" theories? Looks to me like the power flows the other way around.

But NSA wiretaps fine? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819667)

Gosh.

I am surprised .... (1)

maroberts (15852) | about 7 months ago | (#44819837)

...this is not addressed through the basics of contract law.

When a wireless router broadcasts a SSID on an unencrypted wireless network, it is effectively an invitation to use that network.
So your computer asks that router for an IP address, and lo and behold the router gives you an IP address. By making a request for an IP Address and the router giving you one, it has effectively given you permission to join the network.

All this is different on a secure network, since you either have to have the key or pick the lock (even a simple lock like WEP). Picking the lock to use a service without authorisation can easily be seen as an offence.

So what has Google done that is radically different from walking around looking for an open connection so you can send an email? (Apart from scale that is).

Summon Tuppe666 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44819897)

Roar roar Google, Do no Evil! Made in USA! Google Google! Chromebook GooOGOGlE GOOGLE! GOOGLE!!! Who needs privacy, Apple loving sheeple!

http://reddit.com/u/Tuppe666 [reddit.com]

Mixed feelings (1)

FuzzNugget (2840687) | about 7 months ago | (#44819925)

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.

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