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Judges ponder location for Google privacy lawsuits

A panel of federal judges gathered in Boise is deciding where to consolidate several lawsuits against Google Inc. that allege the company violated wiretapping laws.

At least nine lawsuits seeking class-action status have been filed in the United States so far contending that Google collected fragments of e-mails, Web surfing data and other online information from unencrypted wireless networks as it photographed neighborhoods for its “Street View” Google Maps feature.

Google is also facing investigations or inquiries in 38 states as well as in several countries, including Germany, Spain and Australia.

The Mountain View, Calif., company said in May it inadvertently collected the data from public Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries, but it maintains it never used the data and it hasn’t broken any laws.

Google attorney David Burman asked the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to consolidate the cases on Google’s home turf in the Northern District of California.

Some of the plaintiffs suing Google are pushing for the same location, Burman told the judges, and the majority of witnesses are likely to be from the region.

But Robert Curtis, an attorney who filed one of the first cases against Google on behalf of Hamilton County, Ohio, resident Matthew Burlage, pointed out that other plaintiffs could come from anywhere in the United States.

“In the allegations of the complaint, the Google Street View cars drove down almost every street in America, so it could be in the tens of millions of people,” Curtis said. “Everybody who had a wireless or Internet connection accessible at the street level.”

Still, Curtis said his clients supported consolidating the cases in the Northern California as well. Other possibilities sought by some plaintiffs include Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts.

Some of the lawsuits are filed by people who say they saw Google’s Street View vehicles outside their homes and later learned the cars were equipped with devices that could intercept, capture and store information from their wireless networks. Some say they believe Google may have gathered personal and business e-mails, passwords, documents and other information transmitted over the Internet.

The attorneys were arguing for their choice of venue in Boise because the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which is charged with assigning complex cases that cross several jurisdictions, was holding its July meeting at Boise’s U.S. District Court.

The judges didn’t indicate when they would make a decision.


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