For years, it has been widely acknowledged that Google, Inc. (“Google”) scans incoming and outgoing e-mails associated with individual Gmail accounts in order to deliver targeted advertising to Gmail account holders. While Gmail subscribers may have consented to e-mail scanning when they signed up for Google’s services, many non-subscribers that have sent e-mails to Gmail account holders never directly authorized Google to scan the contents of those communications. Now, a new class action lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania by a non-Gmail subscriber raises the question of whether Google’s practices, and potentially those of other online services and companies that review or monitor online communications of various kinds, violate various individual state laws that prohibit interception of electronic communications without the consent of all parties to a communication.
The complaint in this case (Brinkman v. Google, Inc.) was filed on November 30, 2012 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. It alleges that Google violated Pennsylvania law by intercepting emails the plaintiff sent to Gmail account holders without the plaintiff’s knowledge, consent or permission. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Google’s actions constituted a violation of Section 5703 of Pennsylvania’s Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act, which, among other things, establishes that intentional interception and disclosure of certain electronic communications are unlawful.
The plaintiff is seeking certification of class status for other similarly situated persons, declaratory and injunctive relief, punitive damages, litigation costs and attorneys’ fees, and an award of statutory damages for the plaintiff and each member of the class for the greater of $100 a day for each day of violation or $1,000.
- Glen Westerback