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Quite the World, Isn't It?

On Google, street views and the presumption of privacy

A article in The Buffalo News the other day caught my eye this morning during a pre-dawn browse (the things you find when you wake up early and can't fall back to sleep). The piece looked at the return of Google's "street view" car to Western New York (where I once lived) to refresh its 360-degree images for its online mapping service.

What jumped out at me was this quote:
“Google Street View captures a snapshot in time and posts it for many months to years,” said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum. “That snapshot in time becomes memorialized, and not everyone wants that. Some people don’t mind it at all, but what if it’s your children, playing in the front yard? You’re probably not going to be comfortable with that.... People should have more say on whether they participate in the first place. I’d like people to have more of a choice going in rather than on the back end.”
No. Privacy is a big concern of mine, and this is really a non-issue. A real privacy issue is what we, as a society, have so willingly given up in the wake of 9/11 under the Patriot Act, including warrantless searches, indefensible gag orders, and the government's new ability to rummage around in individual library and bookstore patronage records. It's positively Orwellian what the government is now allowed to do with barely a screech of protest from a public more drawn to sensational murder trials and dance shows on TV than to their legal standing in society.

Google's cameras taking photos on public streets? That is not a privacy issue. Google is able to cruise the streets with the cameras running because of hard-won First Amendment protections that mean anything that an average person can see from a public position - driving down the street or walking through a neighborhood - can be photographed, and published.

This is as it should be in a free society. It's bad enough that police routinely interfere with news photographers by falsely claiming that the taking of a few photos somehow obstructs justice. People who are out in public have no claim to privacy, whether it be from Google's car, news photographers, or a shutterbug like me.

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