Google (GOOG) lost a bid for a rehearing before a federal appeals court that said the operator of the world's most-used search engine must face claims that its Street View program violated federal wiretap law.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Friday amended and affirmed its ruling in September that the Wi-Fi network data collected by the company is covered by the privacy protections of the U.S. Wiretap Act. The court also denied Google's request for review of the ruling by a larger panel of judges.
Mountain View-based Google said in May 2010 that it had mistakenly gathered information from open wireless networks while it was capturing images of roadways and houses for Street View and that it would stop using Wi-Fi information for the service.
Computer users alleged in lawsuits that their privacy was invaded and Google has been fined by regulators worldwide over the Street View Wi-Fi breaches.
Google has argued that it isn't illegal under the Wiretap Act to intercept radio communications or any "form of electronic communication readily accessible to the general public." That includes communications over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks, it said.
A Google representative didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Friday's ruling.
Elizabeth Cabraser, a lawyer representing plaintiffs in the case, said Friday's opinion deleted from the previous order a discussion addressing whether the Wi-Fi communications at issue are "readily accessible to the general public as a matter of fact."
The appeal dealt with the question of whether such communications are automatically exempt as a matter of law, Cabraser said. "The 9th Circuit ruled they're not exempt," she said, meaning Google will have to prove to a jury that "anybody driving or walking down the street could've intercepted the content of these communications, just as it did."
Friday's opinion "doesn't alter the key ruling" in the case permitting it to go forward, Cabraser said.