Google seeks consolidation of Wi-Fi snooping cases

The company wants a single case heard in a court close to its headquarters

Peppered with lawsuits over its collection of Web traffic data from wireless networks, Google wants all the cases consolidated into one, and for that single case to be heard by a court near its Mountain View, California, headquarters.

In a motion this week with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, Google requests that the eight "Wi-Fi" lawsuits, as well as any future ones, be rolled into one at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Google argues that all complaints make similar allegations and that consolidating pretrial proceedings will be convenient for all parties involved, including the courts.

"All of the complaints in the Google Wi-Fi Cases assert claims under the federal Wiretap Act. Some cases involve other, similar claims, including state law claims subject to preemption arguments under federal law. All of the complaints make very similar factual allegations, and thus any necessary discovery will be of common facts," the motion reads.

"Absent pretrial coordination or consolidation, the possibility of inconsistent pretrial rulings exists, especially with respect to the proper scope and extent of discovery, class certification and other factual and legal matters," the motion reads.

In May, Google acknowledged that it had inadvertently recorded and saved Web traffic data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks via its Street View cars, which take pictures for services like Google Maps.

Google had intended for the cars to record Wi-Fi network names (SSIDs) and their routers' unique identifying numbers (MAC addresses), but the system went further and logged the Web sites users were visiting at the moment the cars were driving by.

So far, two lawsuits have been filed in California, two in Washington, D.C., and one each in Oregon, Illinois, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs in all the cases are requesting certification of class status, so that others similarly affected are included.

Seeking consolidation is a logical move that the plaintiffs and courts would likely also welcome, said Eric Goldman, associate professor of law at Santa Clara University's School of Law.

A less clear but more interesting issue will be in which court the consolidated case gets heard, he said. It's no surprise that Google is requesting California's Northern District. Judges there are comfortable with technology matters and familiar with the company and the importance of its services, Goldman said.

"It's very favorable for Google to be in a place where the judges understand what's at stake," he said.

At the Northern California court, judges will be mindful of making decisions that adhere to the specific issues in the case, and don't have excessively negative consequences that affect other Google services, Goldman said.

Google declined to comment about its consolidation motion.

In addition to civil lawsuits, Google is also under fire from lawmakers and government officials in the U.S. and Europe who are probing the collection of data from Wi-Fi networks.

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