Google Street View in the News

Vancouver property owners and an arbor service have been charged with illegal removal of trees from the owner’s property.  A Vancouver bylaw requires property owners receive a permit to remove trees greater than 20 cm in diameter, and the owners have been charged with the unpermitted removal of over 20 trees.  The penalty for each violation can range between $500 and $20,000.   What caught my attention is that a vehicle taking photographs for Google Street View recorded the tree removal:  “[t]he photograph shows a truck on the site, along with a couple of workmen, tree debris, and a line of tree stumps along the length of a fence.”  A city spokesperson was not sure whether or how the Google photo would be used in the case.

Google Street View also figured in a Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision this week to reinstate the  lawsuit against Google filed by in 2008 Aaron and Christine Boring (seriously) for invasion of privacy, trespass, and other claims.  According to the decision

The Borings, who live on a private road in Pittsburgh, discovered that Google had taken “colored imagery of their residence, including the swimming pool, from a vehicle in their residence driveway months earlier without obtaining any privacy waiver or authorization.” They allege that their road is clearly marked with a “Private Road, No Trespassing” sign, and they contend that, in driving up their road to take photographs for Street View and in making those photographs available to the public, Google “disregarded [their] privacy interest.”

The trial court dismissed the Borings’ privacy claims (which it treated as claims for intrusion upon seclusion and unreasonable publicity given to another’s private life) “because the Borings were unable to show that Google’s conduct was highly offensive to a person of ordinary sensibilities,” and dismissed the trespassing claim because the Borings’ failed to allege facts showing that the trespass damaged them.    The Third Circuit affirmed the trial court’s decision on the ruling on the privacy claims, ruling as to both that “[n]o person of ordinary sensibilities would be shamed, humiliated, or have suffered mentally as a result of a vehicle entering into his or her ungated driveway and photographing the view from there.”   On the trespass claim the court noted that it is a strict liability tort and the trial court erred in apparently reading a damages element into the prima facie case of trespass.  The Third Circuit reinstated the trespass claim, noting however ” it may well be that, when it comes to proving damages from the alleged trespass, the Borings are left to collect one dollar and whatever sense of vindication that may bring, but that is for another day.”

Street View van has not visited my street.  Maybe someday.

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