Big Day In San Jose For Privacy

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Google went to federal court in San Jose  to defend the company’s eye-popping assertion that those who email G-mail users have “no legitimate expectation of privacy.”  Federal Judge Lucy H. Koh said she would consider Google's request to dismiss the privacy case, but also set a date to schedule a trial — suggesting she wasn't buying Google's argument that the company is exempt from invasion of privacy laws.

Google’s lawyers stated in court: “Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their emails are processed by the recipient’s [email provider] in the course of delivery. Indeed, ‘a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.’”  (Motion to dismiss, Page 19)

When Consumer Watchdog released the statements to the public, Google caught quite a backlash because, apparently, the public does expect it has a right to privacy in its email communications.

Today’s hearing over whether Google gets the case dismissed is even more critical because if the Internet’s Goliath is allowed to evade invasion of privacy laws, then an entirely new Pandora’s box opens with its new wearable computer Glass. 

Google’s “chief internet evangelist” Vin Cerf just defended Glass’s gospel from privacy concerns this way: “It’s an opportunity to experiment with what happens when you allow a computer to become part of your sensory environment. It sees and hears what you see and hear and it can apply its power and the power of the internet to make use of information in context.”

 Now imagine how that will work without the public being protected by invasion of privacy laws, such as the California laws protecting against wiretapping that Google claims its technology is exempt from. Every image taken on the device by the army of Glassholes will be a data-mine for corporations and governments that want to know everything there is a about us. With Facebook just announcing the use of facial recognition on all its billion users, is there any doubt that every image recorded in Glass will be easily identifiable?

Cerf says the balance of equities tip towards Glass because “This is a very powerful opportunity to see what happens when computer power is made available within the context within which you operate.”

If we are going to let cloud-based computers operate like our eyes and ears, and allow for  videos and recordings to be fed to Google’s corporate cloud without the public’s knowledge, invasion of privacy laws better apply. 

The case in San Jose is a scary omen of the things to come if Google is allowed to claim technological exemption from the laws that have traditionally protected the individual and public from prying eyes and ears of those who should have no legitimate expectation that they will allowed to stalk and record us.

Jamie Court
Jamie Court
Consumer Watchdog's President and Chairman of the Board is an award-winning and nationally recognized consumer advocate. The author of three books, he has led dozens of campaigns to reform insurance companies, financial institutions, energy companies, political accountability and health care companies.

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