back to article Street View nod prompts call for privacy watchdog reform

Frustrated by years of alleged intransigence in dealing with complaints about privacy-infringing new technologies, activists have called for politicians to investigate and reform the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). London-based pressure group Privacy International (PI) said the ICO's response this week to complaints …

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Stop

Grrr to the power ten

"In a world where many people tweet, Facebook and blog it is important to take a common sense approach towards Street View and the relatively limited privacy intrusion it may cause."

Is Facebook a verb now? As in "Facebook off, you Facebooking ICO Facebookers"?

Just because "many people" share the most intimate details of their every bodily motion doesn't mean that such navel-gazing should be mandatory for everyone at the business end of a Google camera. What next? "My friends and I regularly shower in cat urine," said the information commissioner. "I suggest an extra pipe to everybody's house carrying the amber tonic!"

"You're all dirty now!" noted the commissioner, being the Facebooker he is.

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Which freedoms do you want most?

This all seems to be a bit of a muddle. Alongside the outrage at Google's photographic violations of privacy by, there is an equal and opposite concern that the right to photograph is being eroded.

If it's OK to go down the street with a camera photographing people and things, it has to be OK whoever is doing it. And if it's OK to publish those pictures, then it's OK, no matter who publishes them, or how.

Merely not liking the fact that it's Google doing it, or being taken aback by the scale of their operation, don't make a difference to questions of whether it should be permitted.

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Perhaps...

...if the likes of Privacy International called "wolf" less often over non-issues like Street View, and only complained about the stuff that is of concern (like the DNA database), they'd be more likely to be listened to.

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Hmmm

Personally I dont find Street View all that invasive, I dont get what the fuss is. I find Phorm etc far more invasive, since they harvest personal data. And in fact, I sometimes wonder if all the brouhaha about Street View is really misdirection. I mean, when Phorm was first heard about, the only place there was really an outcry was here at El Reg. A few mainstream sites mentioned it, but none seemed too incensed about it. But then perhaps thats because the BBC, BT and Phorm all share personnel, so they wouldnt criticize. Google, however, I'm willing to bet is a black sheep not involved in all these shady dealings, so Street View gets harped upon. And the Europeans dont seem to have an opinion on it, but they have a strong opinion on Phorm.

Nonetheless, I agree with PI that the ICO is a toothless lion. In fact, I think the ICO only advises on privacy to coddle the masses into believing someone cares.

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Anonymous Coward

streetview

The hard on for streetview is sad, as a service it is interesting now, and in a decades time it will provide a valuable historical resource to look back on a snapshot of what our world looked like in the past.

The obsession is very middle class.

It really doesn't belong on the same agenda as social network sites being open to Government/Secret services/Police to harvest data. ID and DNA database registers to allow huge data mining. Increased police survailance, abusive policies towards protest, national databases for children, medical records, or any of the other increadibly dangerous projects forced by the Police and Security services with the backing of politicos.

The only ramblings being ooo now people can see my house on ter internets and maybe if they really care use that to help in burglery/ID fraud, and maybe some embarrasment if you get seen going into/out of a sex shop. Personally I couldn't care less if I was seen entering/leaving a sex shop, I'd be "well yes, but then why were you checking all the sex shops in the country anyway loser?"

On the burglery subject, middle class BS, you're much more likely to get burgled in a poor area then a more affluent one, for several reasons, less security, less social cohesion, activities and apperances of burglers less suspicious, less paranoia, more chance of transient population, more hectic working times, more chance of a single parent, less chance the Police will take it seriously.

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AC
Flame

normally

I'd side with privacy fears but they have to be well founded. Finger printing in schools for example, is something that we don't want or need.

But in this case, PI can fuck off. Street View is as big a threat to your privacy as your goldfish. It's just so plainly obvious that you struggle to argue your side. Google take pictures while out in pubilc and put it online. Wasn't there a big uproar when the police tried to stop US taking pictures in public?

Maybe these morons just don't like successful, large and profitable companies ... at least they are showing the same level of intelligence as the greenpeace wankers do.

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Gates Horns

What about PI's conflict of interest?

Is this the same PI that has a business conflict of interest when dealing with Google or another one?

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While I'm not sure about Street View...

...the Phorm incident showed for me that the ICO are lapdogs of big business. What - an illegal wiretap? Against privacy? Shurely not, sir.

If I take a photo of a policeman in the street, I risk getting had for it, while Google cruises by with their photocars. Whether or not you believe Street View is an invasion of privacy, the sheer hypocrisy of that situation is ridiculous. If I sniffed networks without permission I'd get arrested off the bat, but if Phorm do it it's OK. I wonder what the difference is in these cases. Nothing to do with...money? No, course not.

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Black Helicopters

Yawn

PI tinfoil hats firmly in place, get real!

Street view shows a year-old snapshot of images, all privacy-relevant stuff is waaaay out of date.

Wake me if we can get a streetview-like mashup of all the 55 million cctv eyes' live images on t'internet.

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Paris Hilton

Apparently photography is now dead

They complain, the don't like the answer so the ICO must be useless and got rid of. But what happens if they don't get the "right" answer next time. Wash, rinse, repeat? Probably. Seem to recall Nixon tried that one...

Millions of photos are posted to facebook each day, but yet this crowd are only complaining about the photos on google??

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Go

ICO - I'm with you

I do not see they [google] are doing anything wrong.

There are too many people on this planet just like to have a whine about nothing. Why don't they focus their energy on sorting out their own life instead of everyone elses.

If they stop google taking photos, then surely they must also stop the press / tv media from taking any public footage.......

Wake up to the modern world. Oh, when can i get my ID card?

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Stop

As much...

...as I concur with PI's view that the ICO has signally failed in its duties, this really is the most pointlessly stupid cause to champion; it sounds more to me as though they're trading credibility for headlines. They're right that the ICO has not merely failed, but not even attempted to succeed. However, there are enough genuine privacy threats without harping on about this nonsense.

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Are PI for real?

Why all this fuss about Street View when they rolled over and played dead on the Phorm issue?

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Unhappy

@daniele

The difference is that if you or I take a bunch of photos then they're not made available to millions of users of some computer programme we wrote. Even if I publish on Flickr or whatever, my images remain effectively un-observed compared to Google's. How many millions of people have now looked at Google Maps?

But yes, I agree the fundamental point: if its ok for google to photograph a street scene, then it should be ok for me to do it too. The cops should not be trying to seize my camera in the interests of "national security", not without reasonable cause.

And taking a photo of a police officer is not "reasonable cause" - whether he's going about his duty peacefully and fairly or whether he's maltreating a protester in central london.

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Stop

First, Second, Third & Fourth

"In a world where many people tweet, Facebook and blog it is important to take a common sense approach towards Street View and the relatively limited privacy intrusion it may cause."

Firstly, "Facebook" is not a verb.

Secondly, I don't tweet, USE FACEBOOK, or blog, and thus this argument is null and void as far as I'm concerned.

Thirdly, people decide themselves what to post on FaceBook etc - they don't have it decided for them by some company.

Fourthly (and finally), although Google Street View CAN be invasive under certain conditions (e.g. it catches you puking in the gutter or with a woman other than your wife), by and large it isn't anything of the kind.

The hypocrisy of "Google can photo everything and stick it on the web, but if YOU photo a church, we'll assume you're a terrorist, lock you up and confiscate your camera" is the issue. If it's OK for Google to photo everything and post it on the web, it should be ok for me to take photos in the street without having plastic plods interrogating me as to the purpose of my activities and accusing me of actually trying to get snaps of some 14yo kids or whatever.

(and yes I know the ICO has nothing to do with me taking pictures. But hey.)

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Alert

THINK, people, think!

The recent acts of thuggery by the police only came to light BECAUSE people were taking pictures in public places.

If we introduce laws to curb photography in public places, the police WILL abuse those laws to prevent members of the public holding them to account for such acts as shooting Brazillian electricians, battering newspaper sellers and smacking protesting student girlies in the face.

Ever heard the phrase "give them enough rope"? We're being given enough rope to royally hang ourselves. We're queuing up to ask, nay beg, the Government to introduce yet more laws that will be used to curtail our own freedoms.

Just how stupid are some people?

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I fail to see what is wrong with street view

it doesn't show anything that anyone could not see by walking down my street. There are much bigger privacy issues to worry about. Don't waste your energy on frippary.

Unless, of course, targeting streetview is a way of keeping the focus off the really bad things that Jacqui Smith is up to.

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Anonymous Coward

Load of old cobblers - this one, anyway...

I don't particularly like Google, and I've little time for the ICO after the Phorm fiasco, but how could they come to any other conclusion over Street View? It's perfectly legal for anyone to take pictures in public, and perfectly legal to publish them - Google actually go above and beyond what's required of them by blurring people's faces and removing things when asked - there's no requirement for them to do that, so it really doesn't matter how effective their face-blurring technology is - there is no right to privacy in a public place. If PI are attempting to make law via the back door, that's just as worrying as when the police do the same thing...

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Anonymous Coward

@Are PI for real?

Becouse the middle classes don't get why Phorm is a bad thing (we've got nothing to hide and want better ads), but they know they don't want riff raff able to see them on the interbutts.

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Hogwash

If someone can walk down the street and see it then why do you care that a 12-month old version is floating around? Sometimes you have to get off your high horse when the situation requires.

Photos of public places: no privacy issue. Deal with it.

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Anonymous Coward

PI

PI seem to have shot their credibility over Phorm. I feel that neither Google nor anyone else will be worried about them making threatening noises any more. Which is a shame.

Meanwhile, the Street View issue isn't (and never was) whether StreetView is illegal in principle. It is that the ICO passed it in the first place on the assurance that Google's face and plate blurring technology worked. It palpably didn't. It wasn't even close. Therefore Google need to be given a very big slap, to deter other organisations which actually *are* evil, as opposed to just immature in world view. It dosen't look like that is going to happen now.

As for driving up public roads taking photographs, yes, Google are in principle entitled to do that. The residents of wherever it was are also entitled to lie down in the road and refuse to let them pass. It's called a protest, and permissible under civil liberties. Google subsequently were fully entitled to call the police and have the protesters moved on, but for whatever reason they seem to have declined to do that.

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bandwagon

PI, get the fuck off, leave it to the snobs who have nothing better to do

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Anonymous Coward

I'm with PI

Those of you who want Google street view, fine off you go, but let those of us who don't want it be left in peace. If you really can't see the difference between someone photographing my house and someone allowing the searching of photos of my house by address then there's not much hope for you!

As for this crap about it being a middle class issue, grow up for goodness sake.

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Anonymous Coward

I really do not like streetview.

I think it's an appalling erosion of what we perceive to be right or wrong. It may be within the law but it is still bloody rude.

Having said that, there are far better issues to pick a fight with the ICO over. Far better examples to put forward for reasons of regulatory reform.

PI still can't bring itself to say the 'ph' word can it?

With a general election not far off, the EU breathing down HMG's neck over phorm and a growing public awareness that the whole BT Webwise/Phorm scandal is the shadiest thing since polaroid sunglasses, I would have hoped PI might have spotted the more appropriate vehicle for driving through reform.

If we get these reforms and laws changed/clarified/enforced, then we may be in a better position to have a pop at the streetviews of this world.

Pull your finger out PI, there ain't gonna be a trade war.

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Anonymous Coward

An opportunity

Maybe PI can put their other (commercial) hat on and trouser some beer tokens for advising Google how to make streetview more privacy friendly.

I reckon I'm slightly more privacy obsessed than the next man, but I really don't have much of an issue with streetview - quite the reverse, I find it both useful and interesting. No-one has any reason at all to expect privacy when they're out in public, any more than they should expect to see their privacy invaded when they're at home or using a phone or computer - essentially private activities.

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Anonymous Coward

Rocket meet arse

Any issue which encourages the ICO to start taking privacy seriously rather than rolling over for commercial interests has got to be good news. It may not be the right cause to champion but at least PI have resumed focussing on issues here at home.

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Jay

It is useful but...

I'm not against StreetView per se. It's a nice little tool and I've used it a few times.

What I would say that is that it wouldn't have hurt Google to have announced that they were going to do it - how much would it cost them to take an ad in the local paper? Good PR is never money wasted.

True, they could argue that if they did that you'd get more Googabisionists staging things for the camera but hey, it's good to laugh :)

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Unhappy

Is it ICO policy to be clueless?

From the Convention on Modern Liberty;

David Smith:

"I don't like to start with Phorm, but I will start with Phorm. You make a point about the technical resources available to our office I think which is entirely fair. We have limited technical resources one of the ways, when we have more funding, is a need to extend that sort of technical expertise..."

Caspar Bowden:

"David I'm sorry, I can't let you get away with that.

You have 200 employees soley devoted to data protection. But as a matter of policy over the years ICO has chosen not to employ anybody with computer science post graduate qualifications and particularly expertise in information security.

That has been a matter of policy choice by the ICO.

200 people?

Come off it!"

David Smith:

"I'm not going to pick holes in the details of what you've said. I mean its a fair point. We need some more technical expertise and thats one of the things that we will do with increased resources."

Soon, the present Commissioner will be a distant memory.

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@dephormation

Is that true? That they do not hire computer science graduates at all?

Oh brother. PI is right.

Mind you, I dont think it takes a genius to understand why Phorm is so wrong. But some computer science training certainly helps.

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Anonymous Coward

FFS

When PI spout shit like this it undermines all the good work they do as well. And the problem is that this bollocks is the stuff that gets the most publicity. Google do things that are a much greater invasion of privacy, why aren't PI after them for that? I can only guess that it's simply because that won't get them the media coverage that they seem to be so desperate for.

As for Streetview being the final straw, that gives you some insight into PI's priorities. A picture of your house on the internet is obviously a much more sinister invasion of your privacy than what Phorm and BT have been up to.

I hope this will be the final straw for anybody who actually takes PI seriously.

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what about phorm?

Where exactly did they enforce the law when it came to the phorm case??

What a bunch of tossers. Liars and cheats living off of OUR tax money. If they aren't linked to the government why do WE pay their salaries.

Fuckers.

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Simple solution...

If a community doesn't want google street views of their neighborhoods then they have a nice little legal option.

They can 'privatize' their streets and neighborhoods making it unlawful for google to run their street view vehicles around the neighborhoods. If google does this, then you can nail them for criminal tresspas or legally order them to remove the street view from that neighborhood.

In the US, you do have private drives and gated communities where google's vehicles can't legally enter. If you extend that to neighborhoods that are not gated, yet are clearly marked, then you should have the same legal barrier.

The laws are such that a person does not have the right to privacy in a public area. However, it becomes murky when a person is in a public area taking pictures of a private area.

Of course, one has to wonder how much Google will charge to have certain neighborhoods not shown via street views. This is sort of like having the phone company charge you to not list your phone number. Perhaps this is a future blackmailing revenue stream for Google when the internet ad market crumbles?

Thumbs down because its one thing to map out the major cities and store fronts. Its another to map out private drives where you don't expect visitors. (And yes I do live in the city and while I don't mind people seeing my building, I do appreciate and understand why those in residential communities would freak.)

-G

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Anonymous Coward

Forget the face blurring ....

... which I think is a red herring. What bugs me is the ability of any snooping b***d who happens to acquire my postcode to look-up where I live, from the comfort of their swivel chair. Prospective employer checking out my social status; local council checking that I haven't done that porch extension; tax office checking out the size of the company car on the drive; burglars checking for flat roofs and lack of alarms; national double-glazing salesman sending-out directed snail-junk-mail where they suspect rotting frames!

OK it can all be done on foot with your own eyes, but it's a lot more time-consuming for the snooper. Nothing wrong with photographing per se, but it's the tying up of the photo with the postcode/house-number and (with electoral registers also on the web) with your name. Street-view expedites this sort of snooping. One of the DPA principles is that information held should not be excessive. Street-view is excessive for any sensible purpose, and because it can be easily related back to an individual, we ought to be properly protected by the DPA.

Well, I guess I knew already that the UK is bottom of the list in the privacy law stakes.

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Boffin

Street View is the Total Perspective Vortex

In as much as it shows you exactly how insignificant you really are. Amongst a gigantic database of images, you are lucky (unlucky?) if you appear in a single one. Though the piece of fairy cake is a little dry...

PS: You have no expectation of privacy outside. Get over it.

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Silver badge

If a burglar

Has enough time to cruise through GSV, looking for places to burgle, then goes to the place, check it over again for any security he/she may have missed, then...

Oh, hold on. Maybe it would have been easier just to walk down the road in the first place.

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Anonymous Coward

@Gumby

"If a community doesn't want google street views of their neighborhoods then they have a nice little legal option.

They can 'privatize' their streets and neighborhoods making it unlawful for google to run their street view vehicles around the neighborhoods. If google does this, then you can nail them for criminal tresspas or legally order them to remove the street view from that neighborhood."

This is the UK we're talking about and you can't "privatise" your street here. On a public right of way you, Google and any other person or organisation have the right to take photographs from there. There's already plenty of what might be described as "geolocated photography" on the internet so why is everybody picking on Google? Because of the current media frenzy.

Futhermore as a tool for casing a joint Google Earth/Maps, Live Earth, Multimap and all the rest are potential more useful as they show you things you can't see from the public highway. These images, therefore, have more potential to invade your privacy.

The only issue with this is of course that the imagery is mostly hopelessly out of date. I'm currently sitting in a building in an English city centre and the images on Google Earth of this whole city are very nearly seven years old. Where I live about 8 miles away the images are more up to date, they are a year newer!

So in conclusion I think this is all a case of PI and a whole load of other dickheads having a kneejerk reaction to something that's in the media spotlight, rather than thinking for a second.

Think you can stop Google (or anybody else) taking a picture of your house from above? How are you going to get rid of all those aeria Google Earth via Panaromio. What can you do to stop that?

And while we're at it hadn't we better ban the Ordnance Survey and AtoZ and all those other mapping companies who may help people find our houses. When is it all going to stop?

Probably when you take off your tinfoil hat.

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Anonymous Coward

how fast are they rolling out coverage?

What I don't understand is what is Google doing with the material they are collecting but not publishing

Their car came round here about a month ago, a 6 house cul-de-sac at the edge of a small village, but I still can't look at pictures of here or anywhere within miles of here

It's still only possible to look at some places in the city 10 miles away

You can't get within 200 yards of the airport terminal, which might be useful for people who want to figure out car parking and so on

The football ground, to help fans of visiting clubs? Tough luck.

Around the university area, I found a couple of residential streets with a few adults in fluorescent jackets ushering a class of school children along the pavements. Only half the car registrations were blanked out, and less than half the kids' faces

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DR

FFS!

if you don't want your unrecognisable blurred face, connected to your body.

or your car with it's blurred number plate.

or your house (not blurred) to be on streetview

or you find that anything that isn't blurred that should be, then you just request that google take it down.

it's not hard, and it's not difficult.

all reports say that they are very responsive to this.

stop complaining. if you have a problem with a particular scene on streetview you can request it's taken down.

as for private streets, yet this is true. if you made your street private then you wouldn't let google in...

good luck on getting the council to agree that your street is private land though, and have fun dragging your bins to the end of the street each week.

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Confused

I'm confused as to which aspect of Google Streetview people want to ban.

Taking pictures?

Taking lots of pictures?

Taking lots of pictures systematically?

Publishing said pictures?

Geocoding and publishing said pictures?

None of those seems in itself objectionable. And outlawing any of them would have many unintended consequences.

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Damn them..

My plan to flash the street view cameras will be ruined by this sort of thinking. I won't have these hippy do-gooders take away my 15 minutes of fame just because of a few stolen roof tiles or the occasional act of terrorism.

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Hah

PI's pronouncements about Google always make me laugh, since as any fule kno, Simon Davies works as a consultant for certain rivals of Google ;)

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Bronze badge

Reality TV?

The problem isn't so much with widespread dissemination of information collected in public spaces. Alarming though the scale of the internet may be, we have to hope that common decency will prevail rather than impose control by legislation, which would erode all our freedoms. More troubling is the collection of information that can't be seen or accessed by those to whom it pertains.

Perhaps we should be more concerned about reality TV shows, for these tend to promote acceptance as a norm the idea that intrusive and prurient observation is acceptable behaviour.

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Orv
Coat

I really don't understand the British mindset

Brits are apparently willing to let the government put up CCTV cameras everywhere to keep an eye on what they're up to, but when a private company tries to take low-res still images suddenly everyone's up in arms?

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Anonymous Coward

What planet are they on?

Aside from the question that Google have impacted on my rights as a photographer, the ICO overlook the impact on daily living. Has anyone here been stalked before? I have, and I don't fancy my house being studied online by him or another one. The tools for finding peoples' address exist already. This almost as bad as giving attackers a CCTV, and I think the ICO demonstrate they need to be replaced, culture of complacency and all.

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@ Daniele Procida

The difference between us taking photographs and big business / big brother recording everything is the scale of what is being captured and how searchable it all is. In a free society, the individual must be allowed to record whatever he wants, unless it really is going to compromise national security (I would suggest that photos of policemen or government buildings do not compromise national security, but plans drawn up to arrest terrorist suspects probably do qualify!).

The problem with big business / Big Brother recording this type of information is the linking of it all together. The fact that the world's biggest(?) interweb search engine is also recording what specifcally you are looking at on Google Earth / Street View is scary: the ability to link all of this information together and to pass it on to a 3rd party...

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Anonymous Coward

A different ICO gripe

The ICO nominally have responsibility for oversight of compliance with the Privacy and Electronic (EC Directive) Regulations 2003. That includes the Telephone Preference Service which is supposed to prevent unsolicited telesales calls. Penalties for making calls to persons registered with TPS include fines of up to £5000 for each offence.

The TPS is funded and "managed" by the marketing industry on behalf of the ICO. Nobody has ever been fined. I am registered and still receive one or two calls a month, that's maybe £100k of potential fines p.a. Recent statistics calculate 60% of UK households are TPS registered so multiply my £100k by what, 20 million? - but I expect the marketers would clean up their act rather than contribute £2bn a year in fines! (Marketer's clean up their act... sorry I'm being naive! -and so is the ICO)

Reporting offenders is a complete waste of time, allegedly if sufficient complaints are made about an organisaton calling TPS registered numbers they will be asked to stop. A pity we can't get collection of speed camera fines delegated to a consortium of motorists.

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