Officials in Riverhead, NY have been using Google Earth to figure out which residents neglected to get permits for their pools. Some $75,000 in fees later, busted residents are pretty unhappy about this and they’ve turned to privacy advocates to help them fight the power. The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed lawsuits on behalf of some residents. NYCLU attorney Donna Lieberman told the AP that Riverhead officials could have enforced permit requirements “without this sort of engaging in Big Brother on high.”
Riverhead ceased using Google Earth but Chief Building Inspector Leroy Barnes Jr. didn’t buy invasion of privacy claims, telling Government Technology the whole thing was “a safety issue more than anything else.” Barnes, showing a government official’s easy grasp of the obvious, also pointed out “Anybody can access Google Earth. It’s free.” Riverhead wasn’t spying on residents, Barnes said, the city was “just verifying.”
Riverhead could have used Bing, but Microsoft’s Earth Imaging product charges governments for the service. Barnes insisted Riverhead wasn’t waxing Orwellian, just cheap. “The town doesn’t have the money,” said Barnes.