King Canute on a Bicycle? With Google Glasses?

King Canute on a bicycle? With Google glasses?

The story of King Canute [Cnut the Great] these days is told one of two ways. Version One – the King was a man who knew that he was only a man and not a God. So when his Courtiers flattered him and told him he was all-powerful, his demonstration that he was powerless to stop the incoming tide was intended to prove to his courtiers that even the King himself is subservient to God’s law.

Or, version Two, perhaps he really did think he could stop the tides – certainly most people speak of King Canute being a fool who thought that his powers extended to stopping the sea in its tracks.

Whichever is true, it seems a bit politically dangerous for a King to have shown so graphically that there was a limit to his power. So either way Canute may have been on a loser.

The new incoming tide now is the ever increasing speed of change in technology. This extends to bicycles and cameras!

You will have noticed that ever other cyclist in the city these days wears a video camera. No doubt the purpose of this is to enable the cyclist to prove what happened if he should be unlucky enough to be involved in a road collision.

Another potentially more intrusive development is the so-called “Google glasses”. In UK they are not really here yet but the worry of them is already causing concern. One fear is that by the time everybody wears Google glasses it will be possible for the internet to locate anyone anytime. If you are an escaped convict, or an office-worker on a “sicky”, sitting on an underground train opposite a Google glass wearer then the internet will recognise your face just as a number plate recognition already recognises your car.
Most people seem to agree that this is a bad thing.

There is no present framework in the law to deal with Google glass – it is not yet clear indeed what Google glass is capable of. Will it allow a criminal to walk once around the streets and then, back home at leisure, identify on his computer the whereabouts of every security camera he has strolled past and its field of vision enabling a route to be plotted which avoids all security cameras?

Will it allow people to sit in the cinema then walk away with a perfect version of the film downloaded through their glasses?

Back to King Canute. These days perhaps King Canute’s younger brother is still alive and practicing in the German courts. This would be the District Judge in Munich dealing with a fairly trivial motoring collision earlier this year.

Each of two drivers gave conflicting evidence blaming the other and there were no witnesses. One of the drivers however had a video camera in his car which he says clearly showed how the accident happened. The Judge refused to see the evidence of the video film. The reason the Judge gave or is reported to have given is “at this rate society will be giving up the right for informational self-determination – if every citizen attaches a camera in his vehicle or his clothing everyone will be filming and permanently monitoring each other for no reason”.

In another German case a Judge has said that the use of video cameras in vehicles may even be illegal in certain circumstances.

These two Judges are prioritising the privacy interest of citizens and whilst most of us would agree that privacy of citizens is important I wonder whether our agreement would extend to excluding video evidence when it is the only means of being sure of the circumstances of a road accident.

I would also suggest that the Judges would have not have excluded the video evidence if the accident had resulted in death. So where do we draw the line!

The Law is constantly having to adjust itself as the circumstances of modern life change. At present the advent of Google glass certainly seems to be raising more questions than the law can presently answer.

I doubt whether the answer is to sit on a Throne, or a Judge’s chair, order back the tide of technology and simply refuse to listen to the evidence.

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