April 13, 2008

The "Google Street View" Lawsuit

Greetings. Since the airing of this NBC Nightly News segment {video} a few days ago, in which I appeared in a brief sound bite, I've received quite a few queries as to why I've publicly taken Google's side in the associated matter of a lawsuit filed against Google regarding their Street View service.

Regular readers know that I've been generally quite supportive of Google Street View, and the associated right to take photos from public property. The presence of a formal mechanism to request removal of privacy-sensitive photos from Street View -- which I believe has been present since the service was launched -- is a important factor as well.

In the case under discussion, it seems clear that the straying onto private property (all it took was not noticing one sign) does not appear to come anywhere near the "gross" and "intentional" violation that the lawsuit alleges, and does not represent Google policy.

At the worst, this seems to be a case of "unintentional technical trespass" (something we've all likely done accidentally at one time or another). "Harmless error" is another way to phrase it -- but either way, the elevation of this event into litigation seems utterly inappropriate.

I have another concern as well. We're increasingly seeing overzealous legislative and administrative attempts to limit or prohibit a significant variety of innocent public photography. In my view, such restrictions can carry seriously negative public interest and safety risks -- by creating an environment where honest citizens could be unable to (legally) photographically document key locations and events -- images that are very frequently squarely in the best interests of the public at large.

While the probability of this particular lawsuit triggering mass photography prohibitions is quite low, it's still another link in the chain of arguments that photography restriction proponents are likely to keep pressing forward.

It's important to try keep all privacy-related matters in context, since careless or knee-jerk reactions can result in a wide variety of possibly unintended consequences, and we've seen bad laws result inappropriately from seemingly minor events in the past.

Overall, both Google Street View and public photography in general are conducive to public interests, while broad photographic prohibitions carry the potential to do serious damage to those very same interests.


Posted by Lauren at April 13, 2008 08:44 PM | Permalink
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