Google accused of spying on Gmail users
Published: 12 October, 2012, 19:46
Get short URL email story to a friend print version
Internet, Information Technology, USA, Corporate news, Security, Court
Google fights Gmail privacy suit
Google isn’t exactly a stranger to allegations that they invade the privacy of their customers, but now the search engine is being asked to explain itself in court over accusations that they snoop through messages sent through its Gmail service.
Representatives from Google are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit waged at the company’s Gmail platform because the plaintiffs in the case cannot explicitly prove that their correspondence is being unlawfully monitored by the email service.
Brad Scott and Todd Harrington are the lead plaintiffs in a case that attempts to call-out the Silicon Valley search engine company as being in violation of California’s Invasion of Privacy Act (CIPA) because they believe Gmail conducts clandestine scans of emails for words and content, intentionally intercepting private communiqué as a result without obtaining the user’s permission. Google, on the other hand, maintains that only computers complete all the legwork and that no humans actually have their eyes on any emails, also insisting that neither Mr. Scott nor Mr. Harrington can back up their claims that any action from Gmail has led to injury.
Google condemned the case this week, Courthouse News reports, arguing by way of a 25-page motion that Gmail scans data sent over its servers using its "fully automated processes involve no human review of any kind" that they insist exists to screen out viruses and spam "for the protection of its users." Now they are asking US District Judge Lucy Koh to dismiss the complaint with prejudice.
The plaintiffs say that Google’s actions are enough to land them in court because that conduct constitutes wiretapping and eavesdropping in their eyes, a claim which Google says is “contorting” state law "in ways the California Legislature never intended.”
"In the context of emails, multiple courts have recognized that no one can reasonably expect that the emails they send to others will be free from the automated processing that is normally associated with delivering emails," Google responds to the case with this week’s motion.
"Plaintiffs fail to articulate a single concrete injury stemming from the automated processing of emails sent to Gmail users," Google adds. "Plaintiffs instead rely on conclusory allegations that their privacy rights were infringed in the abstract."
Additionally, Google charges that no state statues being called into question applies to the plaintiffs’ allegations, writing in their motion that the terms "electronic communication," "email," "Internet" and "computer" are not included.
"Even if the court were to accept plaintiffs' invitation to judicially rewrite the statute to reach electronic communications, choice of law rules would still preclude applying CIPA to this case," Google’s motion states.
"CIPA makes clear on its face that it is intended to protect California residents and not to regulate California businesses," Google adds.
Judge Koh is now expected to hear the motion on March 21, 2013. Meanwhile, congressional Republicans wrote to the White House this week to attack a planned cybersecurity executive order that would allow third-party companies, such as Google, to openly share customer-inputted information with the federal government.
“An executive order exerting influence over critical infrastructure is not just a step in the wrong substantive direction,” the letter reads. “It will almost certainly be exploited by other nations to justify their efforts to regulate the Internet. This is a most critical time, and we cannot afford a hasty, unilateral action that will only serve to bolster the efforts of less democratic nations to stifle the very free exchange of ideas and expression that has allowed the Internet to flourish across the globe. For these reasons, we urge you to rethink the wisdom of an executive order.”
The letter to US President Barack Obama was signed by 11 GOP members of Congress, including US Rep. Fred Upton (R-Michigan), Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah).