A federal judge in San Jose has taken an historic step for holding Internet communications subject to the same privacy laws that exist in the rest of society.
The Court rightly rejected Google's tortured logic that you have to accept intrusions of privacy if you want to send email.
In a seminal decisionfor online privacy, Judge Lucy H. Koh rejected Google's claims that wiretapping laws do not apply to its Gmail business and that consumers who email Gmailers have no reasonable expectation of privacy. The decision finds that reading emails is not a necessary part of Google's business operations and that California's Invasion of Privacy Laws apply to opening and reading online communications without consent.
The ruling will have lasting impact beyond Google. This is a very big consumer victory for the right to use the Internet without having to give up one's privacy.
In a stunning admission contained in a brief in the case, lawyers for Google said people should not expect privacy when they send messages to a Gmail account.
Google's briefsaid: "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)
Google made the statement that people can't expect privacy when sending a message to a Gmail address in a response to a class action complaint filed in multi-district litigation. The suit says Google violates federal and state wiretap laws when the company reads emails to determine what ads to serve based on the message's content. The class action complaintwas filed under seal because it details many of Google's business practices about the way it handles email.
Google's lawyers will no doubt try to challenge today's victory for consumers, but it's a good omen that the courts are telling Google's billionaires they are not exempt from the laws that apply to us all.