An elaborate hoax in Scotland involving Google Street View has highlighted the use of third-party satellite images in criminal cases.
Google’s Street View is a popular feature of the Google Maps online application. While searching for directions via Google Maps, Street View gives people the option to see turn-by-turn directions with real images showing actual streets instead of illustrated maps. Google obtains these images by strapping a 360-degree camera to a car that drives around streets while the camera continuously takes pictures. You may have seen one in your neighborhood or while driving around.
In Edinburgh, Scotland in 2012, two mechanics, Dan Thompson and Gary Kerr, saw one of Google’s cars driving around the streets where Thompson’s garage was located. Thompson and Kerr decided to play a prank when the car drove past their street. As the car drove past Thompson’s shop, the camera snapped pictures of Thompson’s “lifeless” body on the ground with Kerr hovering over Thompson holding a hammer. Though Thompson and Kerr’s faces are blurred in the images, they can both be seen with smiles on their faces upon closer examiniation.
Google didn’t upload the images until months later and it took over a year for the images to be reported to the police, who then started an investigation. Thompson stated the police took the matter very seriously at first, but eventually had a laugh upon discovering the hoax and didn’t continue with the investigation upon learning the full story from Thompson and Kerr. Google declined to comment on the matter.1
Google Street View Images As Evidence
Though Thompson and Kerr’s prank did not result in any serious criminal charges, Google Street View images have already been used as evidence in criminal cases in the United States for several years. In a case from New York in 2010, the NYPD used Street View images of drug sales in front of a Brooklyn bodega as evidence to arrest and indict seven people accused of being in a heroin-selling ring.2
Most of Google’s Street View images are about one to three years old, although Google tries to update the images regularly. Some images have raised privacy concerns, though Google says its technology automatically blurs people’s faces and license plates. It also allows users to request that certain images be removed or report any offensive imagery. Therefore, if a Google Maps Street View Car were to capture a crime occurring and you found the images of the crime and reported the images to the police, the police would have to investigate.3
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Information retrieved from:
1. Murder on Google Street View?, June 3, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/03/world/europe/uk-scotland-google-view/?sr=fb060414googlestreetview1030avodtoplink]↩
2. NYPD uses Google Street View images as evidence in heroin-dealing case, November 11, 2010, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2010/11/google-street-view-nypd-drug.html↩
3. Google To Remove Killed California Teen From Google Maps, November 18, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/18/richard-barrea_n_4298317.html↩
Image retrieved from