Magistrate Denies Google Motion Blocking Lawyers’ Access To Wi-Spy Data

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA– A federal magistrate has denied a motion from Google in the Wi-Spy class action suit that plaintiffs said wrongfully would have blocked lawyers’ access to data Google’s Street View cars gathered from private Wi-Fi Networks.

Instead of responding to the lawyers’ discovery requests,  “Google filed a motion which ironically seeks to prevent the Class Counsel appointed by this Court from analyzing the data that Google stole from the very individuals Class Counsel were appointed to represent,” said the plaintiffs’ brief filed late last week.

Monday afternoon Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James denied Google’s motion.

The suit charges Google’s snooping on the Wi-Fi networks violates state and federal wiretap laws. Last year the Court of Appeals ruled the case could proceed. Read the Plaintiff’s brief filed on Friday here:

“The tactics Google is using in an effort to prevent Plaintiffs from adequately determining the issue of standing is almost as disturbing as its intentional interception of the payload data itself, for it comes at the expense of the legitimate discovery process outlined by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,” the legal brief said.

“Once again Google is showing its hypocrisy by trying to keep information about its activities secret while asserting that its corporate mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director.  “They are trying similar tactics in the Gmail case by seeking to redact a transcript of a hearing that was held in open court.”

Plaintiffs in the Gmail case also say Google violates wiretap laws when the Internet giant reads emails of people who use its Gmail service. The Gmail case is before Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose.

On Feb. 7 Judge Charles R. Breyer ruled that discovery on the issue of standing in the Wi-Spy case should begin. According to the Plaintiff’s filed March 14, here is what happened:

“Instead of responding to Plaintiffs’ requests, Google proposed that it turn over the intercepted data to one of five “neutral” third parties—of Google’s own choosing — who would then conduct limited searches for any communications of the named Plaintiffs based on a search protocol that must be agreed to in advance by Google. Google fails to cite any statute, rule, or precedent that supports this type of restrictive discovery. Google’s Motion is nothing more than a bald attempt to circumvent the Federal Rules for its own tactical advantage and to avoid producing all relevant discovery that will allow the parties and the Court fairly to resolve the standing issue. The motion should be denied as substantively wrong and procedurally premature.”

As the Plaintiffs’ brief notes, this is not the first time Google has resisted attempts to get to the bottom of the Wi-Spy scandal, in which the Internet giant’s Street View cars sucked up data – including emails, passwords, banking and health data from – from private Wi-Fi networks in 30 countries around the world.  In 2012 the Federal Communications Commission fined Google $25,000 because it “deliberately impeded and delayed the Bureau’s investigation by failing to respond to requests for material information and to provide certifications and verifications of its responses…Google apparently willfully and repeatedly violated Commission orders to produce certain information and documents that the Commission required for its investigation.”

Spector Roseman Kordoff & Wills and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll are Plaintiffs’ co-lead counsel in the suit. Consumer Watchdog is a co-counsel.

Read Google’s motion asking the court to approve the appointment of a “neutral” party here:

“Google’s tactic brings a dispute to the Court before it is ripe, with the goal of improperly granting Google the first and last word. Google’s strategy is designed to limit Plaintiffs’ opportunity to fully explain the propriety of its discovery requests, and to address any specific objections Google might have (but has so far declined to make),” the Plaintiffs’ brief said.  “Google’s motion should be denied and it should, in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, provide the data recorded by its Street View vehicles, data that indisputably contains the intercepted communications of the class members. To the extent Google has any responses and/or objections to Plaintiffs’ other requests, it should serve them pursuant to the Federal Rules, which would then be followed by a meet and confer conference between the parties. It is only then that any specific disagreements may be determined, and if necessary, brought to the Court’s attention.”

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John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson is an American consumer rights advocate and former journalist. Since 2005, he has worked for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, as the lead researcher on Inside Google, the group's effort to educate the public about Google's dominance over the internet and the need for greater online privacy.

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