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The eyes-in-the-sky approach that the town of Riverhead, N.Y., used to find pools without proper permits didn't fly with everyone.

In the past few weeks, Riverhead officials had been using Google Earth's detailed satellite images and identified about 250 swimming pools whose owners hadn't filled out paperwork certifying that their structures were safe and up to code. According to town officials, pools without permits could be dangerous because without inspections, it's unknown whether the structures meet safety regulations. Because of Google Earth, Riverhead has been able to collect about $75,000 in fees from violators.

But objections from privacy advocates flooded the Long Island town as critics claimed the high-tech method erodes privacy rights and evokes the "we're watching you" feel of Big Brother.

"Technically it may be lawful, but in the gut it does not feel like a free society kind of operation," the New York Civil Liberties Union's Donna Lieberman told The Associated Press.

Riverhead officials have decided to stop using the free satellite imaging service. Still, Chief Building Inspector Leroy Barnes Jr. dismissed invasion of privacy charges, stating that the town only aims to make sure owners have safe swimming pools, nothing more.


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Russell Nichols  |  Staff Writer