The United States Park Police vs. the Google Maps Car in San Francisco’s Presidio

The Presidio of San Francisco, on the northern waterfront to the left of the newly upscale Ghirardelli Square, hasn’t seen this much action since they filmed The Presidio, starring Sean Connery. It appears that a mounted member of the United States Park Police briefly detained a Google Maps camera car for some sort of driving infraction this morning. Oh noes! Don’t impede this car – it’s gone to some interesting places. It’s not scary at all, right?

So the photo below shows how the magic of Google Street View happens – you can see their method all laid out. In this case, Google is using a brand-spanking-new Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid (wouldn’t a 50-state VW Jetta TDI diesel get better mileage?) and a rather tall metal mast with mad cameras, GPSes and SICK laser range finders. Click to expand:


Courtesy of damianspain of the San Francisco Bay area. Thanks Damian! Check out his flickrstream for lots of great shots of San Francisco, including a rare blue sky at the North Beach Festival.

(Normally, the Presidio is a quiet place, except for people feuding over the location of the new CAMP museum and the occasional coyote attack. And Hooverball – the kids these days make all sorts of noise throwing their old school medicine balls around.)

Keep up the good work, Google Street View drivers. Just make sure to watch out for The Man (as well as all those sexy pedestrians trying to catch your attention).

[Update: National Park Service employee and Commenter #67 Motorcop_2000 disputes any account that has the Googler getting a ticket. MC_2K indicates that this driver merely got lost and was trying to get “back to the Avenues” (meaning the Richmond or the Sunset districts). Bad driving and Toyota Priuseses seem to go together, so this story rings true.]

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76 Responses to “The United States Park Police vs. the Google Maps Car in San Francisco’s Presidio”

  1. Douglas Karr says:

    Doesn’t Google realize that operating a red car increases your chance of a ticket? They should have gone green! (doh!)

  2. I’ve seen the shadow of cars like this on the roads. Interesting to see the actual vehicle. =)

  3. Note that the four beige boxes mounted on the mast appear to be SICK (brand, not adjective) laser scanners.

  4. Interesting observation Ari. Those SICK scanners can be used for proximity measurement and distance estimation.

    It looks like Google is building a 3D database of the city and when combined with photos via texture mapping can produce a pretty good 3D model of the city.

  5. “This is for the pictures ur cameras took of my house last weekend”

  6. Machine safeguarder says:

    we actually sell a different model of those scanners, they’re used for safety purposes. Basically like a really complicated motion detector.

  7. lincmercguy says:

    Are they going to realize that publishing photos of private property without the consent of the owner is wrong? It doesn’t matter if it’s only what is seen from a public streen. You should have to opt-in instead of opting out of this.

  8. John says:

    I saw the google car pass by my school last summer right when i was walking out, was pretty amazed that right after street view was released i saw a Google car in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.,-88.082886&spn=0.042394,0.108404&z=14&layer=c&cbll=42.203739,-88.086761&panoid=J6YqjZ3yrYtCtAsvSHlBaw&cbp=2,96.21594392925726,,1,1.6500991412098605

  9. Niran says:

    Is it me alone that notices that the driver doesn’t seem to give a fuck… he’s reading a map while the cop does his thing….

    Driver to cop: “Are we about done here? I’ve got shit to map!”

  10. Sambo says:

    Publishing photos without the consent of the owner is not wrong, it is the basis of photojournalism. Permission is a courtesy, not a right.

  11. Haha! Thanks great artilce!

  12. Matt says:

    Lincmercguy, you are incorrect. Anyone can take and publish photos of public areas. Basically if you are on the street, there is no expectation of privacy. Your idea is absolutely horrible. If google did the street view as opt-in, there would be NO useful information in street view. I would guess that only 1% of property owners (business or residential) would end up opting in, and then the entire street view would be worthless. I’m not meaning to be a troll, but you obviously haven’t thought through your line of reasoning beyond the initial attempt at a thought.

    Personally I have a lot of respect for google that they even give an option to opt-out. Legally they don’t have any responsibility to do so. The laws are clearly in their favor as any pictures can be taken on public property and where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.

  13. 199604 says:

    It looks to me like the Google logo on the door is sideways.

  14. Aemond says:

    In Quebec province of Canada, it’s the law. You can’t publish my picture without my consent or I gonna sue you. Hens there is no Street View here.

  15. Mark says:

    Google actually drove by my house a few months ago and caught me on my porch!

    Unfortunately, I didn’t see the vehicle.

  16. bob says:

    @Aemond, yet another reason canada suck, eh?

  17. Ruggy says:

    Citation reads:

    “Bandwith limit exceeded.”

  18. thomas says:

    hey aemond you spelled hence wrong….damn canadians

  19. Ruggy says:

    I bet these laser scanners have been hacked to provide far more data than mere proximity sensing.

  20. Poops Ball says:


    Listen the world would be a terrible place if we did things like they do in quebec. eh. Two words for you…Celine Dion…

    Chances are there is no street view there because they haven’t gotten there yet.


  21. Vanessa says:


    Chickens there is no Street View???

    (I think you meant “hence”)

  22. Witty Nickname says:

    I saw a Google StreetView car in the Houston suburbs a couple weeks ago (pictures of that area still have not been posted), and although the camera equipment was identical, the Prius must be a California thing, because the car I saw was a beat up ’90s era Honda.

  23. […] to The San Francisco Citizen for pointing this […]

  24. lincmercguy says:


    You are probably right about the percentage that opts-in. However, they are not taking pictures of public property, they are taking pictures of private property from a public street. Google is honoring the opt-outs because it can be a gray area of the law, and they would probably have to defend a few lawsuits. Google would most likely win, but it would cost more money than just removing pictures as requested.

    It’s morally wrong, in my opinion, to profit off of pictures of someone’s private property without their permission. It’s not like photojournalism where somone’s property might be in the background of a news photo, the photo of the property is the product, taken without permission.

    My idea is just absolutly horrible for Google, that’s all.

    And you are being a troll by attacking me more than my post.

  25. lincmercguy says:

    By the way, anyone who doesn’t want their private property to appear on Google, there is a help section on StreetView with a question submission form. Once you submit your request, they will ask for the address of the property that you own, and photos in question via email. Send them a screenshot of every photo that shows your property and explain that it is private property that you own. It will take a few weeks, but the photos will be removed. Hopefully there are enough people that do this to put signifigant holes in the residential areas and it will be limited to commercial, industrial, and public districts in the future.

    My guess is that most people praising this action do not own any property and have not seen a detailed photo of their primary residence on a major search engine.

  26. Michael says:

    Driver to cop: I’ve got a million $$ of Google stock. Have a nice day.

  27. Chode says:


    Nowhere within the U.S. are you restricted from taking photo’s of public places. Anything I can see from the street is legal. Anything that you do not wish for the entire world to see must be covered in some fashion. Some people accomplish this with a fence. Others use tall lattice and vines (where HOA’s and counties restrict tall fences). Morals/ethics do not come into this, because from the founding of this country there has been legal wording in place to explain this concept and provide protections and reasonable expectations of privacy. It is explained in the Constitution of the United States of America.

    There are some areas that taking photos can be hazordous. Such areas may include; but are not limited to, military installations (test and nuclear storage sites as an example), or any site that is deemed classified. Such sites are clearly labeled and often use wording such as, “…use of deadly force authorized”. Somewhere I have a funny picture of a guard holding an M60 to the back of my head (Malmstrom AFB) while another one of them explains to me the definition of “grimace”. In those locations one must get permission to take pictures.

  28. Brad says:

    Who cares if your property is on a search engine?

    I always find Streetview helpful when I am going to a friends house I haven’t been to before and I look it up beforehand to get an idea….

    In Dallas county (TX) you could search a property address on the tax appraisal district website and view a photo…. but they had to remove that eventually due to some legal issues. I think it factored in more because you would see the owners name, address, house details, etc etc… and the photo of the specific house, so it was a little more invasive.

    However, as a function of the map service it is more generic and generally extremely helpful. And fun! =-p

  29. Google Street View Car Gets Pulled over by U.S. Park Police…

    […]It appears that a mounted member of the United States Park Police briefly detained a Google Maps camera car for some sort of driving infraction this morning.[…]…

  30. B-Rock says:

    @ the douchebags picking on Aemond:

    We have laws in Canada that are upheld, not altered when it’s convenient for our brainless leaders to alter the constitution and declare a never-ending war a technique, that you dragged Canada into. Morons.

    Go cram a cheeseburger down your noisehole, Yankee pricks.

  31. Mox says:

    Fuck the police.

  32. jeff says:

    “Doesn’t Google realize that operating a red car increases your chance of a ticket? They should have gone green! (doh!)”

    Actually, red cars have a higher resale value, and the employee has to bear the costs of any of his own traffic tickets– thus the decision to go red was wisely acuated by google. which is scary.

  33. Anne says:

    Actually Matt you are still incorrect. There is no expectation of privacy on your property if it can be viewed from a public place, street, public air space (i.e. what a pilot can see from the air).

    If there was an expectation of privacy on such theory, our government could not do surveillance to try to get probable cause to get a warrant to get inside homes. Surveillance usually happens before the issue of a search warrant (because they are trying to build a case to get probable cause).

    The government would have to get a search warrant to park on the street and try to see the activity of a house. To get that warrant they would have to have probable cause, in which case they can just get a warrant to get in the house on the first place. It would cripple the way investigations are done. Per our U.S. Supreme Court (yeah the law in all 50 states), there is no expectation of privacy as you describe it.

    The Case in chief is Katz v. United States (with several others standing until today). More at , as you will see there is a two part test establish this and both prongs must be met,

    1. Subjective test (did you personally believe that you had a reasonable expectation of privacy on the fact that your house can be photograph from the street and 2. Objective test (does society as a whole has an expectation of privacy on the fact that your house can be photograph from the public street). Your argument fails on number 2. How do we know society does not have an expectation of privacy from being photograph from the public street? Because that is what the courts have said when referring to the 4th amendment. Read more at

    There is however expectation of privacy when technology is used to enhanced what can be viewed from the public space (telescopes, binoculars, or anything that would make the view clear) Google is not allowing their pictures to zoom-in by making the picture clear, but simply making the pixilation bigger (same picture just bigger pixels, which does not produce a better, shaper, or more define picture, which it can be argued (and probably will).

    It seems to me that Google has its staff lawyer research the issue before going and getting pictures all over the place. Canada might have different laws, and therefore, Street View is done over there. You can choose to move there if you like.

    Regarding your moral dispute with Google, “It’s morally wrong, in my opinion, to profit off of pictures of someone’s private property without their permission” probably does not consider that 1. Google is dropping some major cash and investment on this. The picture of you house standing alone is worthless; it is the infrastructure that Google has put together that makes it valuable. It is the investment and the distribution model that makes Street View valuable. They are not profiting out of your private property without your permission, they are profiting from a business investment and a distribution scheme that cost millions of dollars to set up.

    Good Luck

    Anne J.D.

  34. Patrick says:

    There was a time when I had a close-up picture of the camera/gps unit on top (black box) and would have gotten my arse sued off if I showed it to anyone…now you can find these guys driving around all the time. Back when the project was secretive and just starting, the cars were actually old chevy vans and the cameras were somewhat disguised =P

  35. clark says:

    /limericguy puts on his tinfoil hat

    whats next? standing out front of your property and shouting at people for looking in your direction?


  36. Jeremy says:

    HAHAA This is fake!! My friends made this photo, but I didn’t think anyone would believe it. Have any of you seen a care with a 5 foot metal mast with cameras on top of it in broad day light. I dont think so!! UNREAL

  37. Professr says:

    I for one welcome our new private-property-scanning overlords!

    As far as privacy concerns go, I don’t care if they have a picture of my house. If you have a problem with it, feel free to opt out. Most people probably don’t care either.

  38. That’s hliarious

  39. k2r says:

    > (wouldn’t a 50-state VW Jetta TDI diesel get better mileage?

    I guess the Prius gives them enough electricity to power their equipment.

  40. Seth Brundle says:

    “wouldn’t a 50-state VW Jetta TDI diesel get better mileage?”

    I guess they didn’t feel like paying $5/gallon for diesel.

  41. MPAA says:


    If Canada is so high and mighty, then why is the Canadian version of the DMCA even WORSE than the American version?

    You fail.

  42. Xz says:

    ahem.. jeremy.. umm.. stfu..

  43. Is this even real? I mean, I expect a big van with small sat. dish and other equipments as well. Did not expect a small Toyota!

  44. Dan says:

    All we need now is a robots.txt you place in front of your property…

  45. John Bluefoot says:

    Stupid caop, should have handed him a donut, he would have went away Im sure.


  46. Irene says:

    I for one welcome our stupid-catchphrase-from-ten-years-ago overlords!

  47. demopublican says:

    so basically we’re saying that a company that can pay for the infrastructure can benefit off other people’s personal property at no fair compensation. That implies if you have the cash you can do anything.

    I call that stealing or at best skimming off the top. Google I’d not a distribution service, but a mere middleman with one technology–adwords.

  48. bluexadema says:


    the foremost Law of photo-journalism is that if they can view anything from a piece of public property, then the area in view is considered public property (at least in terms of the photo).

    This unfortunatly is the basis for paparazzi, the photos taken of the the scientology protests and in fact if a police officer can see assault rifles (feel free to sub in sex slaves, or torture devices, or dead babies, anything suitable really) or controlled substances while standing on the sidewalk or on *your* driveway, he can proceed to raid your house without a warrant.

    The second actual law of photo journalism is that if anyone asks you for your film, you arent required to hand it over.
    you should thank them for the opt-out feature, they would never lose a lawsuit on this subject.

  49. mark says:

    people get to use street view and other google products for free, so they shouldnt complain about who’s paying who

  50. byetman says:

    This photo actually reveals a new component of their sensor array – they are capturing 3D Point Clouds in addition to video! Those aren’t GPS’s, they’re Laser Range Finders.

  51. lincmercguy, shut up you quear

  52. Kye Lewis says:

    @Jeremy – yes, i’ve seen one very similar driving around melbourne.

  53. Gilboy says:

    I dont think its right that map companies make maps showing the street where my house is. I live on the street and its wrong.

  54. Bevan says:

    Interestingly none of the hardware on the pole is even similar-looking to that which I saw in Christchurch NZ 5 months ago:

  55. DJXJ says:

    saw this, at about 8:30ish am on 280 heading north this morning.

    seen a couple of them. and they have a varied fleet from old vans to newer vehicles as this.

  56. dai says:

    may be the height issue!

    “more than allowed height!”

  57. […] Note: History of Firefox Mac Classic DreamHouse GoogleCar gets Ticket Cosmopolitan Doesn’t Care about […]

  58. LiquidSharp says:

    Well, I hope we get to see this episode while were’re flying around GoogleEarth.

  59. Jaray says:

    Question: The article states that the Google car has “gone to some interesting places” and links to a page on Presidio Terrace. But from there it doesn’t seem like I can get Google street view to go inside Presidio Terrace, or am I missing something? Did the all the rich folks in that neighborhood happen to get their mansions de-“street viewed”??

  60. says:

    The United States Park Police vs. the Google Maps Car San Francisco’s Presidio…

    The Presidio of San Francsico hasn’t seen this much action since they filmed The Presidio, starrring Sean Connery. It appears that a mounted member of the United States Park Police briefly detained a Google Maps camera car for some sort of driving in…

  61. julian says:

    Actually we don’t have street view in canada because its too big and not enough people the cost is prohibitive it has nothing to do with laws.

  62. I think it’s fine that Google is doing this. They’re not actually taking pictures FROM the private property, but rather OF it.

  63. Oh my! says:

    Oh my gosh, it’s a story about Google – mental masturbation time!

  64. lonewolf says:

    @dai no its not a height issue you can have a vehicle up to 14 ft tall before you would need a oversize permit

    rv’s are taller than that car with the pole and they dont get tickets or need special permits for height

  65. Dufusyte says:

    As I understand it, you can photograph/film anything you can see from the street, however: you cannot sell it without consent of the people pictured if they are recognizeable, unless it is a news-like production, in which case you can sell it as news.

  66. motorcop_2000 says:

    lol — donuts, you’re funny!

    google car was lost .. go figure! directions back to the avenues were given.

    As for “privacy issues” well, privacy or not, the National Park Service requires permits for “commercial” film shoots … video or still. Wonder if they had one … driver didn’t have one in the car.

    Phone numbers for the permit offices were given, as were directions back to the avenues from the heart of the Presidio.

    By the way … photo is not manufactured. It was taken and posted by someone who didn’t know the whole and complete story … way to go internet!

  67. Teri says:

    Besides the issue of personal vs. private property permissions, doesn’t anybody get the Big Picture of why we should be worried? While it’s great to have this feature (to scope out a place you haven’t seen), the implications of Big Brother are HUGE! The saying, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” is totally applicable to all the ways this will feed into a massive database about everybody and everything that could totally be used for all the wrong reason…And no, I’m not paranoid or into conspiracy theories…but all our technology is pointing us down that road…

  68. splash says:

    Teri, I would agree in saying that new technology such as this require ever more focus on balancing right and wrong. Technology certianly enables such things as centralized databasing that could be used for good or bad. Centralized databases underpin the basis for credit checks… but at the same time can be used by identity theives. Government can use the same technology to either identify potential criminal or terrorist activity (think money laundering and illicit funds transfers) or it can be used to violate consitutional privacy of individuals.

    But technology isn’t the problem… it is corrupt and/or ill-intentioned behaviors that lead us to a “Big Brother” situation. Technology, after all, has allowed the US to become an even more transparent society and helps expose corporate fraud and government abuses. And that is a good thing (unless you were one of those caught!).

    If you are worried about US or State Government becoming Big Brother… I wouldn’t worry just yet. Hell, they still can’t even pull together all their “super-secret” databases even 7 years after 9/11. I’d be much more worried about those credit card and marketing companies… they are the ones I don’t trust to protect my information as if it were their own…..

  69. John De says:

    Do you know how much diesel costs? Jetta my ass!

  70. sfcitizen says:

    Yes, I know how much diesel costs.

    The thing is that the Euros can’t get enough of the stuff, so the prices for ‘Mericans is now higher than gasoline.

    But Doktor Diesel’s juice has more energy per unit volume and it’s used more efficiently, so diesel be cheaper overall to operate.

    In NorCal, some Prius drivers are rewarded by being able to use the carpool lane, so they zip along at 80 per. Oh well. A TDI Jetta would easily get better mileage on the freeway.

  71. Emily in Mill Valley says:

    This thread reminded me of a joke I heard years ago; I can’t recall exactly but an old lady was offended about neighbors’ activities, they moved somewhere else in their yard at police insistence, old neighbor complains again, “you can’t possibly see them now,” punch line was “…With my binoculars, I can!” I discovered Google Street View for the first time today by accident and when I panned as if I were standing on the street in front of my house (albeit from more than 3 years ago judging from the photos), I was alarmed, impressed, incredulous… looking at the whole US in street view shows you what urban centers have already been captured. My childhood home? No. Most of my friends and family now? Yes. What’s the sound of shuddering while applauding Google?

  72. Russ says:

    If the street views are archivable they have a gret deal of potential for historic preservation research. They are an efficient way to capture context across a broad area. Cool stuff that I thought of before google, but couldn’t afford a pile of cameras to duct tape onto my car.

  73. The driver got lost? maybe he should have gone to to pull up the directions :) thats what i always do :)

    And wondering how can one “get lost” with all those heavy GPSes :)

  74. f@cked in the presidio says:

    the park presidio police are also known to set up illegal road blocks in the late hours of the weekend to catch you if your returning from a party. they park their cars in the middle of the street on a turn with nothing but their tail lights on. then on their report they lie and say they have their amber overhead flashers on which really bums me out that police will go so low as to lie about their own failure to follow procedures all the while citing you to the maximum extent of the law. yes i’m guilty of a .09 and i made a bad call but my driving was safe that night as i had already driven along side a sfpd motorcycle cop for 2 blocks who saw no reason to pull me over based on my driving. and then you face federal court and federal laws which are different than californias. and did i mention i was only 100 yards from my driveway? f@cked in the presidio.

  75. Chris says:

    I almost ran my motorcycle into one of these cars on my street they have bad drivers