22 March 2009

Of blurring technologies and mapping technologies

The launch of Street View in the United Kingdom was never going to be a quiet affair. Beyond the usual fanfare of publicity and the slogans presenting it as the thing we need most, Street View was also going to attract a lot of issues related to protection of privacy of the individuals who are captured on the displayed images.

Hence it does not surprise CyberPanda in the least that Street View had to pull some of the displayed images after receiving a number of complaints from the individuals who were shown in those images. The images captured a lot of moments deemed to be private as an individual entering his home or individuals being arrested. Street View acted promptly and removed the offending pictures as soon as the complaints were received.

However the real issue is why such pictures were deemed fit to appear on the website in the first place. It is surely obvious to any data controller that such pictures will infringe the expectations of privacy of those captured in the images. To be fair to Street View, this situation is not entirely its fault. Other equally important actors are involved, namely, the Information Commissioner and legislators. The Information Commissioner gave the go ahead earlier in 2008 for such web sites to used images deemed to be private as long as identifying features as faces or registration plates were blurred. However, what the IC has failed to recognise is that the use of blurring technology is not sufficient on its own to displace the expectations of privacy of captured individual who can still be easily identified by his/her attire, location and other seemingly innocent but yet incriminating information. Finally, the notion of reasonable expectation of privacy is not easily protected in the UK when it comes to such websites as the legislators and policy-makers are yet to decide on when virtual spaces are private or public. The challenge of course is to determine the boundaries of such a divide which is not an easy task in cyberspace in any event.

Disclaimer: The image used above is subject to the intellectual property rights of third parties. Click here to view the image in its original context.

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