Mob of Britons blocks Google-cam

The thing that amazes me about my homeland isn't its willingness to live under state surveillance, but the way we freak out whenever anyone else uses cameras in public. "I was determined to make a stand," said one local, who helped block a Google Street View car from heading into a Buckinghamshire village.

My dad, who lives just an hour away from Broughton, suggests that the key to understanding this apparent paradox is in the amused contempt that many Britons have for politics. It's not that they're sheep: they just think that no matter what powers are given to the police, freedom is guaranteed by the fundamental incompetence of British police. We trust the authorities because the authorities are too stupid and useless to harm us.

This is why Britons will ignore CCTV cameras, but scream bloody murder at Google.

Published by Rob Beschizza

Follow Rob @beschizza on Twitter.

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  1. “freedom is guaranteed by of the fundamental incompetence of British police”

    I guess this makes sense is some bizarro way. Since the authorities are incompetent, they can’t effectively reign in companies that are not (and thus this task falls upon the citizenry)

    Still odd though.

  2. It was Paul Jacobs who provided the first line of resistance. “I was upstairs when I spotted the camera car driving down the lane,” he said. “My immediate reaction was anger; how dare anyone take a photograph of my home without my consent?


    People in England think that their houses are protected by copyright? I’m sorry, this strikes me not so much as the act of sheep…but idiots.

    These are the same people who are going to be accosting photographers in public places telling them that they can’t take pictures of a building because it is illegal.

    These are people who have already bought into the anti-photographic mentality.

    Maybe Google will just take the whole town off the map. Good riddance.

  3. I can kind of agree with the people in that village. We really live in an opt-out society these days, where rather than getting a chance to agree to participate in something (an opt-in), you have to jump through hoops to get OUT of doing it.

    I realize it’s not practical from a business perspective to ask permission first, since a significant number of people would either say no or just ignore you, but shouldn’t citizens be able to feel secure that they know exactly what’s being done with their data, images, etc, and not have to constantly monitor life for things they have to actively opt-out of?

    And as for google’s oft-stated claim that their street-view is no different than photos anyone could take, I would argue that a viewership of millions, and commercial stake, is slightly different than the average viewership of 12 good drinking buddies and 25 cent development charge any OTHER photo of the average house would garner.

  4. I get the drift about “why no outrage” for CCTV but plenty for Google. I think it’s because CCTV is touted as a safety measure and Google’s info might be thought of a breach of privacy.

    And who’s to say they don’t hate the CCTV also? It’s just that they can do something about the Google car.

    /huh, I sort of like the idea of ‘Google Car’!

  5. They have a point. Who would you rather have on your side if you were trying to rule the world?

  6. #6 – That means that if you are walking down the street and decide you want to take a picture, that these folks have the right to “opt-out” by mobbing you.

    You don’t need to ask permission to take pictures in public places. There is no “opt-out” save for staying inside with the curtains drawn.

  7. There is no “opt-out” save for staying inside with the curtains drawn.

    Well, that and shaking your head real fast so you become blurry.

  8. I can’t understand this either. The UK is becoming a bizzaro place I no longer recognize after 10 years in the US.
    I cannot understand why everyone is so upset about Street View. It’s a static, one time picture. Are there really people who feel their life will be ruined because Google snapped them throwing up? I don’t know who has the time to go through all of Google’s pictures to see where they are anyway.
    There is so much CCTV coverage in the UK, and it’s not all police surveillance – much of it is private security companies. Are they really trusted because they’re incompetent..? I find that hard to believe. I just don’t think people have really thought it through.

    The police state ‘trust no-one, report everything’ posters are just ridiculous too. That’s OK, but a photo of your street is an invasion of privacy? Madness, truly madness.

  9. So what happens if the cops are proven competent after all (say, the cameras actually help them catch someone committing an actually serious crime)?

  10. I think there’s more to it beyond a lack of government efficacy. These people have been sold a culture of fear and now they are reacting with fear. I’d bet a lot of them are not well versed enough in technology to successfully categorize the differences between Googles vans and the constant real-time surveillance of CCTV. Of course I’m just throwing shit at a wall here, having spent a total of 4 days in the U.K.

    @12 To be fair and somewhat off-topic, I hardly recognize the U.S. relative to what it was 10 years ago.

  11. If we could fly we’d try it on against encroaching aircraft too. That’s just how we roll in the shires. Gerroff our land!

  12. The simplest explanation is that they are powerless against their government but do not fear Google.

    I posit a slightly more complex explanation: the British accept themselves as subordinates in a social hierarchy, and they only become agitated about it when they see someone acting above their station, as it forces them to recognize their own weakness and submission.

    In this case, it is a Google van assuming powers normally reserved for the wealthy and the government.

  13. Rob: it’s not just incompetancy, it’s just the British style of beauracracy.

    Villagers wouldn’t do this to a police van because they don’t want to go up against the insane Brazil-like situation that would result.

    The police inside the van would claim to know nothing and say to call their HQ. Calling HQ would result in being assigned a community complaint number while you’re transfered to another department that deals with national survelence. Meanwhile the police in the van have summoned their colleagues who are now using anti-terrorism legislation to cordon a 9m x 9m square around the van and using ‘stop and search’ on anyone inside or who verbally disagrees with them. If this got into national newspapers a small parade of politicians and police spokesmen would give a press conference saying that they understand the frustration of the villagers but we live in a dangerous world and the policemen were just doing their job. Any particulally outspoken villagers would have to appear in court a few times before anyone realised they hadn’t been charged with an arrestable offence.

    That said, the villagers are idiots and I fully disagree with their notion that they have some sort of control over the image of a public space just because they live behind it. They’re probably the morons who vote for anti-terrorism legislation.

  14. No … “The simplest explanation is that” .. tjhey are a bunch of idiots for whom the idea that a fixed image of their house from the public road threatens their safety – unlike a burglar walking down the street and using his eyes.

    Which already happened, I guess.

    They are unreasoning idiots.

  15. Conversely, I think I do hold the right to step into Google HQ, and take photos of every room, officedesk, monitor and employee. Not every day, just once, but I won’t say when.

    Oh, yeah, almost forgot. And I’m planning to make money with it.

  16. @Marcel

    Analogy fail. When it becomes “Google Living Room View,” you might have a point.

  17. People fear what they do not understand.

    I’d be willing to bet that the concerned villagers are members of the older generation, or that they have little experience with computers.

  18. Blue:“They are unreasoning idiots.”


    Apparently, they are worried that the information “we are wealthy” could become publicly accessible.
    And what do they do to stop that?

    Get in the news, so that anyone that picks up a paper or uses the internet will now know that they are wealthy.

    Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

  19. Re: CCTV vs streetview…In the UK, CCTV images both public and private are covered by data protection and freedom of information acts. So I can quite easily find out who has what pictures of me, which in part explains my own blase attitude to CCTV. That and the fact that it very rarely works and isn’t high res enough to actually identify someone most of the time. Not sure how DPA/FOI applies to streetview, but I’m prepared to spend a tenner finding out!

  20. In the UK we are living under what many call a Stalinist regime where the public are being cowed by ever increasing laws enforced by a police force that has forgotten that the etymology of the word ‘police’ means ‘of the people’. One of the most ridiculous of these news laws now makes it illegal to take pictures of the police or any other official figure by a citizen (this craziness is for another topic).

    This now even extends to arresting people that take pictures of public buildings because they may be ‘terrorists’. As a lot of you know there are even Met Police posters all over London that encourage people to report their neighbours or strangers that are acting suspiciously (very Brezhnev), most importantly focusing on photographers (ref: the great reporting on and among others like This is because terrorists are clearly stupid enough to take pictures of sensitive building and CCTV placements with huge SLR’s – apparently they are sneaky that way. Yet here comes Google trolling through the cities impinging on everyone’s privacy with a view to profit from it. They outline all sorts of relevant info for reconnaissance (no matter what your purpose is – buying a house, robbery, or ostensibly planning another Mumbai style attack). As it’s Google the Government laps it up and says all is OK. These double standards make me seethe.

    The tool itself is brilliant – just don’t be fu*&ing hypocrites about it. I think the whole UK exec of Google should be arrested for aiding and abetting terrorists. Just like Joe Public would be.

    Ask the guy that got arrested for taking pictures of manhole covers because it was his hobby and apparently they are very interesting (


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