A class-action lawsuit claims Google, owners of G-mail, are violating federal and California state privacy rights because their automated scanning device reads all e-mail traffic, including messages sent from non-G-mail accounts.

Mary Dickerson is Executive Director, IT Security / Chief Information Security Officer at the University of Houston.  “I think there are two separate issued here.  One is what right to privacy do G-mail users themselves have?  By the fact that they have created accounts with Google and are using Google services for free, they give up some expectoration of privacy in the sense that Google does have the ability to manage usage of their accounts, limit space that they use, and they also have a right to recoup some of their cost by sending advertising to their users.  And because those are clearly stated in their privacy notices, and Google is very upfront if you go through and read the terms and conditions, there is nothing wrong with that.  You may be uncomfortable with that and not want Google to have that level of access into your information, but you are giving up your rights by the fact that you are voluntarily uses their services.”

The issue is messages that originate with providers other than G-mail, and are sent to someone with a G-mail account.  Google agrees that those two are sifted for content.

“What Congress and others are looking at is, what are the privacy rights of non-gmail users,” says Dickerson.

The case is being heard in U.S. District Court in San Jose, California.  Google unsuccessfully tried to get the case dropped earlier, but several court watchers feel the court’s ruling with impact far more than just users of G-mail.