Azara Blog: Google's Street View allowed to continue in UK

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Date published: 2008/04/23

The BBC says:

Google's Street View technology carries a small risk of privacy invasion but should not be stopped, the UK's Information Commissioner has ruled.

The technology, which adds photos of locations to maps, sparked complaints it breaches the Data Protection Act.

A spokesman for the privacy watchdog said removing the entire service would be "disproportionate to the relatively small risk of privacy detriment".
Google has always said its service observed UK law and that photos were only taken from public areas. The technology was first launched, amidst some complaints, in the US in May 2007.

Privacy International had complained to the Information Commissioner along with 74 others, requesting the service be suspended, because some individual's faces were identifiable on Street View.

The technology does have automatic face blurring but some individuals were not obscured. Google said it would remove any image on Street View if a request came from a member of the public.
David Evans, the Information Commission's senior data protection practice manager, compared being captured by the service to passers-by filmed on TV news camera.

"It would not be in the public interest to 'turn the digital clock back'," he said.

"In the same way, there is no law against anyone taking pictures of people in the street as long as the person using the camera is not harassing people," he said.
Dr Ian Brown, a privacy expert at the Oxford Internet Institute, said: "The phrase 'small risk of privacy detriment' betrays the slightly wrong mindset at the Information Commissioner's office as they are having to adopt a reactive approach when it's far too late to really do anything about it.

"They should have been involved much earlier, because Google could - and should - have done a much better job and the Information Commissioner needs to be involved at a much earlier stage; in other words, when it is being designed and not finished."

He added: "I'm not saying Street View is evil and should be taken down, but it shouldn't be up to individuals to spot breaches of privacy and get them taken down.

"So far, the breaches have just been embarrassing - someone being sick, someone else leaving a sex shop - but it's possible someone could find themselves being unfairly divorced because an innocent image could be interpreted wrongly."

A victory for an open society over the closed society that some privacy fanatics unfortunately seem to prefer. If Google was not allowed Street View, then basically nobody would have the right to take photos or make video footage in a public place. Of course these privacy fanatics went after Google because Google is big and American. Fortunately the Information Commission ignored their bleating.

Brown (the so-called privacy expert) makes a particularly poor analysis. It should not be up to a photographer to try and contact every individual who is in a photograph taken in a public place to get their consent before a photograph can be used, which is in effect what Brown is demanding. And his example that "someone could find themselves being unfairly divorced because an innocent image could be interpreted wrongly" is just pathetic scare mongering over a near-zero probability hypothetical situation. Should all vehicles be stopped because there is a near-zero probability hypothetical situation that he is hit by one on the way to work?

There is an important place for concerns about privacy, especially with regard to government surveillance, but by attacking Google, and so in effect attacking every photographer on the planet, the privacy fanatics have diminished their cause.

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