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Google guilty of trespassing in Street View case

Juan Carlos Perez | Dec. 3, 2010
However, Google will only have to pay US$1 in penalties

Gregg Zegarelli, the Borings' attorney, didn't immediately clarify whether the Borings paid his legal fees or whether he waived them.

However, he said he and the plaintiffs cared little about the money aspect of the litigation. Their goal all along was to get Google to admit that it trespassed.

"We did not require or want their money, we required and wanted them to admit they are trespassers," Zegarelli said via e-mail. "Plaintiffs got exactly the vindication they wanted."

If Google does this again, it will be considered "an adjudicated habitual trespasser," which will provide a legal foundation for other aggrieved parties, he said via e-mail. "The extensive record of the case is there for others to use or to consider, for free."

The case history and its documents will help individuals, groups and government agencies taking legal or regulatory action regarding technology-related privacy violations and trespassing, according to Zegarelli.

His law firm has set up a website about the case called Google Trespass. "The goal is to help others defend themselves and leverage their time and costs," he said in the statement.

Google's Street View cars ignited a privacy firestorm when the company announced in May that, in addition to snapping photos, the vehicles had also captured and saved Web traffic data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks since 2007 as they drove around.

The Street View cars were supposed to only record Wi-Fi network names (SSIDs) and their routers' unique identifying numbers (MAC addresses), but a software glitch caused them to also grab and store data like the addresses of websites being visited, passwords and entire e-mail messages.

As a result, incensed individuals have filed civil lawsuits against Google, while regulatory agencies and elected officials in the U.S. and abroad have launched investigations.

Google has apologized repeatedly about the situation and has announced steps to tighten its privacy policies, employee awareness, procedures and protections.

In retrospect, the Borings' case may have been an early warning for Google about the potential risks and problems that its Street View program carries, Goldman said. "Street View is a second-tier service for Google and yet one of its biggest trouble spots," he said.


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