Hurrah for the ICO

April 22, 2009

I should start by acknowledging that anyone using the phrase ‘street cred’ hasn’t got any. I know this, and I freely admit that I haven’t got any. But the ICO deserves some real cred, sorry credit, for its approach to Google’s Street View. But was it bold enough?

While there may be something in the suggestion that Google is conspiring to take over the world, there is not much to support the complaints against Street View. I think the ICO argument, including comparing pictures on Street View to those of fans on Match of the Day, is nicely pitched. Although that particular example is flawed because of course one knows that any football match (at pretty well any level) is likely to be filmed, the news programme example they also use is sound. It may be politic for faces to be blurred in such cases (where there is time etc), but are we in danger of losing sight of what privacy is? Is even the ICO still giving it too wide a definition?

It is suggested on the BBC web site by Dr Ian Brown of the OII (whose superior expertise I acknowledge) that ‘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’. Despite the fact that the whole ICO approach does seem to rely on Google’s willingness to blur faces, I am unable to grasp at what point being sick in the street became a private act. Leaving or entering a sex shop from the street is not a private act either. So how does the right to privacy in relation to such acts arise?

Are we suggesting that there is a right not to be embarrassed? I confess that I rather like the idea but my motivation is questionable.

I think the ICO might have been a little bolder and made more of the difference between public and private. Such a stance would help support those who do really strive to protect the genuinely private.