Google Trespass? There’s An App For That

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled late last week that a Pittsburgh couple can proceed with a trespass lawsuit against Google. The claim arises from Google’s Street View program. Street View provides users with panoramic, navigable views of streets in and around major U.S. cities. The couple was upset when pictures of their residence – including their driveway and swimming pool – appeared on Street View. According to the couple, the road leading up to their residence is clearly marked with a sign that states “Private Road, No Trespassing.” The complaint states that by disregarding the sign, driving up the road and taking photos, Google violated their privacy interest. The interesting aspect of the case is that, while posting the photos on Street View exacerbated the couple’s concern, the claim arises more from Google’s acquisition of the photos. The trespass occurred then and there, whether or not Google posted the photos. Indeed, the court of appeals agreed that the trial court properly dismissed the breach of privacy claims the couple asserted. Those claims focused on the posting of the photos, not their acquisition. The court found that simply posting photos of a residence was not “highly offensive to a person of ordinary sensibilities.” The distinction between speech and newsgathering is an important one. The First Amendment provides much protection for the former, but it’s not a license to break the law in pursuit of the former.