No, this power-to-the-people headline isn’t a belated April Fools’ joke. A Buckinghamshire neighborhood barred a Google Street View car from photographing its homes and streets with an impromptu mob.
The Times reports that after a string of robberies recently, residents had been on the watch for suspicious vehicles. Unsurprisingly, a car with a sphere of cameras mounted on its roof fit that bill.
Resident Paul Jacobs first saw the car. Jacobs went door to door alerting his neighbors, who gathered in the road. They blocked the Google car from passing and called the police. Eventually the driver turned around and left. Jacobs told the Times:
My immediate reaction was anger; how dare anyone take a photograph of my home without my consent? I ran outside to flag the car down and told the driver he was not only invading our privacy but also facilitating crime.
Personally, I had no idea Google was so powerful. I mean, I’ve seen The Googling, but apparently Google just considering taking photos of a neighborhood makes burglars target it. Because guess what? That crime wave they claim Google was “facilitating” took place without any help from Street View.
Naturally, UK law is quite different
from to US law in the area of privacy. In the US, it’s well established that anyone can take a picture of your home without your consent (as long as they’re standing on public property to do so). Indeed, it’s only by actually entering your property that an action may be considered an invasion of privacy, and actionable by law.
The UK subscribes to the European Convention on Human Rights, including Article 8: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” However, I’m willing to bet that “his home” doesn’t mean that we all have to pluck out our eyes if we walk down the street. If you can see it from the street, it may not be considered “private.”
To make things even more complex, there is no UK law legislating a right to privacy. Even in the US the “right to privacy” emanates from a penumbra from other rights guaranteed by the Constitution. However, the UK doesn’t even have that. According to Wikipedia, “An action may be brought under another tort and privacy must then be considered under EC law. In the UK, it is sometimes a defense that disclosure of private information was in the public interest.”
I’m not going to opine whether an image the exterior of one’s house is in the public interest (though, apparently, the details of the Beckhams’ marriage are…). But the fact of the matter remains: if you want real privacy, plant a hedgerow.
Or, y’know, form a mob to forcibly stop one car with cameras one time. Because that’s totally the proper, legal, mature way to behave.