A software tycoon has prominently featured Barbra Streisand’s name on his website along with photos of her home and has been sued by the artist who is seeking the same anonymity he provided to thousands of other owners. His website’s 12,000 digital pictures allow substantial technological enhancement, bringing into close observation security details of properties on the California coastline and well inland, including high security defense and nuclear sites. The website owner himself states in his description of his project, “This site contains photographs of some locations that might be of interest to terrorists.” Each photo is specifically located by longitude and latitude and is purchasable for prices up to $120. The publicity-shy Ms. Streisand sued because the exceptional use and exploitation of her name creates very real privacy and safety issues.
The tycoon, who retired while still in his thirties, recently sold two of his firms for $445 million and, together with his wife, elected to take the photographs without authorization from their personal helicopter. Although he purports to have undertaken his photography for environmental reasons, his website does not attempt to explain how depicting Ms. Streisand’s home together with her name serves any environmental purpose.
Ms. Streisand’s representatives initially asked the website owner simply to remove her name so as not to specifically identify her home, asking only for the minimal respect for her family’s privacy and safety concerns. He adamantly declined. He blamed an orthopedic surgeon from Las Vegas for captioning his website. Obviously, the owner of a website controls the captioning. Streisand’s representatives were compelled to look to the courts for protection. It should be noted.that some of the others shown on the website may have vulnerability concerns because their homes and children’s play areas are depicted in accessible detail.
A known environmental activist, Streisand has given or raised more than twenty million dollars through her Streisand Foundation, much of it for preserving the environment, as well as donating her prior home to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy for environmental studies.
COMMENTS BY PROF. DANIEL J. SOLOVE, SETON HALL LAW SCHOOL
(noted privacy rights expert and consultant to Ms. Streisand’s lawyers):
“In 1890, Louis Brandeis, who went on to become one of the greatest SupremeCourt justices, wrote an article about protecting privacy from photography, a rather new and developing technology at that time. He warned that the taking of unauthorized photographs could invade “the sacred precincts of private and domestic life.” His article resulted in the creation of many laws protecting privacy in almost every state – and these laws remain strong and viable today. In these times, Justice Brandeis’ opinions are particularly relevant.
The case against the website owner involves a privacy issue with very important implications – the ability of people to protect the privacy of their homes and the locations in which they live. The law has provided very strong protection to the privacy of the home. The location of one’s home can be an urgent matter for many people. For many people, privacy is essential to feeling safe and secure in their own homes. Courts and legislatures around the country have protected the privacy of home addresses in many instances, especially where there is the potential for harassment or danger.
Some might question whether we can maintain any privacy in today’s age where surveillance cameras are proliferating, satellites can capture detailed images from above and photographic equipment increasingly becomes more sophisticated. But these are reasons why protecting privacy is all the more important. If we throw up our hands and say that technology eliminates our expectations of privacy, then we will have hardly any privacy left at all. The purpose of law is to protect privacy from encroachments by technology.”