Note – Private Eyes Watching You: Google Street View and the Right to an Inviolate Personality

Roger C. Geissler

Volume 63, Issue 3, 897-926

Google’s rollout of its Street View service in North America in 2007 provoked little concern about the privacy implications of private homes and individuals being easily viewed by potentially millions of persons. In contrast, Street View’s reception in Europe, particularly in Germany, has been marked by episodes of both public outrage and government concern. These divergent reactions can be explained in part by differing conceptions of the right to privacy—with European concepts of privacy based generally on the notion that an individual’s “dignity” should be protected—and the differing levels of protection afforded by those conceptions to aspects of a person’s identity.
This Note compares the legal protections afforded to individuals’ privacy in the U.S. and in Germany. In particular, this Note looks at the concept of the right to an “inviolate personality” that pervades privacy protection in Germany. This Note argues that such a right can be found in U.S. privacy jurisprudence, and that this right protects persons against the actions of private as well as government agents. Lastly, this Note argues that privacy rights must be defined broadly in an era when Street View is expanding to cover not just public streets and alleys, but also the interiors of museums and even places of business.

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