Canadian Privacy Commissioner Discovers Google Street View

And she does not like what she sees.

Apparently the problem is not the US-style “expectation of privacy” – which is hard to have when walking down a public sidewalk – but the Canadian statutory concept of “personal information”, which has specific protection under our privacy legislation:

Stoddart doesn’t have a problem with [Google satellite maps]. However, she warned that high-resolution pictures such as those available on Street View could contravene the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which came into effect on Jan. 1, 2004.

“Our Office considers images of individuals that are sufficiently clear to allow an individual to be identified to be personal information within the meaning of PIPEDA,” Stoddart writes.

As usual with internet curfuffles, the problem seems not to be the infraction per se, but the scale and visibility of it. The cameras on my bank machine are collecting and storing recognizable images of me all the time without my consent (my personal information!) but it is a quiet and invisible process, and does not end in a public distribution step.

I am trying to think of any other situation where my identifiable image might be captured and then published without my consent, but so far am drawing a blank. (Oh, here’s one, when I walk home I end up in numerous people’s tourist shots of the BC Legislature and I am sure some of those people publish to Flickr – which brings us back to the scale and systematic nature of Street View.)