Thursday, April 2, 2009

The CHUTZPAH to Rage Against the Machine

It is part of the "nature of the beast" that Chutzpah of the Week awards tend to go to high-profile individuals in high-profile situations. Indeed, it is often that elevated status that boosts the merely remarkable to echt chutzpah (if the spirit of Yiddish will permit such a German incursion)! However, every now and then something will happen in the backyard (or, in this case, front yard) of an ordinary citizen; and he rises to the occasion with both the spirit and the action of chutzpah that could be a model for us all.

Paul Jacobs is such an ordinary citizen. He lives in the village of Broughton, a place unknown to most of us (with the possible exception of seriously thorough scholars of the Doomsday Book, in which it is recorded). You might say that his chutzpah would put Broughton on the map, were it not for the fact that his actions were intended to keep his little village off the map. At the very least it brought him to the attention of Andy Dolan, a reporter for the Daily Mail; and Dolan's story is now available on the Mail Online Web site.

It turns out that Broughton has a strong sense of community, and their community sentiment takes a rather angry view of Google Street View. As Dolan put it, they fear that "the images could be used by burglars to scout for suitable homes to raid;" and they were furious at the prospect of Google collecting such images and making them so easily available to just about anybody. The result was an impromptu protest against one of the camera-equipped cars Google had dispatched to collect such images. This is where Jacobs enters the story, according to Dolan:

Villager Paul Jacobs told how the impromptu protest unfolded on Wednesday when he spotted the car - which was unmarked but featured the tell-tale 360 degree-rotating camera fixed atop a pole on its roof - cruising slowly down his lane in the Buckinghamshire village.

He dashed outside, confronted the driver and told him that he was not allowed to continue before alerting police.

Mr Jacobs, 43, then knocked on his neighbour's doors and a crowd of mutinous residents surrounded the black Opal Astra forcing it to make a U-turn and quickly leave.

Furthermore, Dolan included a statement from the Thames Valley Police indicating that one of the protesters had the good citizenship sense to let them know what was happening:

A squad car was sent to Broughton at 10.20am on Wednesday to reports of a dispute between a crowd of people and a Google Street View contractor.

A member of the public had called us to report that he, along with a number of others, were standing in the middle of the road preventing the car from moving forwards and taking photographs.

They felt his presence was an intrusion of their privacy. When police arrived at the scene, the car had moved on.

Here is a case where "nothing to see here" is a happy ending to what could have been a crime scene!

Needless to say, Google holds to the premise that they were doing nothing illegal. Their official reply, however, has its own ring of chutzpah to it:

Householders are entitled to request their property is removed from the site but only after the picture has appeared.

In other words Google recognizes your right to close your barn door but only after the horse has been stolen! That is enough to make Google a contender for this week's chutzpah award.

Nevertheless, I always prefer the positive connotation to the negative. Acting as a synthesis of the shepherd David and his first-namesake Paul Revere, Jacobs rallied his neighbors to stand up to an intrusion by the Goliath Google; and the village prevailed. As I said, this is chutzpah that can serve as a model for the rest of us; and I hand Jacobs his Chutzpah of the Week award with sincere delight.

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