Tom Brake MP writes… Google Streetview and British citizens’ privacy

The traditional privacies and anonymities enjoyed by people in this country come under greater pressure every day. Google Streetview is the latest point at which private interests come into conflict with technological advance. I remain concerned that this service, which places comprehensive, zoomable and rotatable photographs of Britain’s streets freely on the internet, has not come under enough scrutiny from those who are supposed to safeguard our individual liberties.

The Liberal Democrats have been absolutely unequivocal in their criticisms of the expansion of state surveillance, arguing that having CCTV on every corner is invasive and unnecessary. I simply don’t think that Google should be given a free ride where our own state is not.

Obviously the technology itself is wonderful, and has already proven to be very useful. It should also be said that, as far as massive, multi-national corporations go, Google is generally extremely socially conscientious, often living up to its company-wide mantra of ‘don’t be evil’. However, the potential expansion of the Streetview service needs to be carefully examined.

At the moment, Streetview isn’t going much further than aggregating images of Britain ‘s roadways, most notably here in London . British law does not prevent anyone or any group from photographing or recording this country’s public spaces. Yet even the process of cataloguing the roads of the capital has resulted in concerns over individual privacy, with faces blurred out and sets of images removed wholesale.

It is clear to me that a debate must take place before Streetview goes any further, and we must all receive assurances that British citizens’ privacy will be respected and safeguarded before the quieter lanes of our country suddenly start to appear, wholesale, on the internet.

* Tom Brake is MP for Carshalton and Wallington, and Lib Dem shadow minister for home affairs.

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  • Sophia Pangloss 18th Jul '09 - 4:23pm

    And yet I could walk down any public road in the country with a camera. Would you lock me up for this?

    Catch up!

  • Herbert Brown 18th Jul '09 - 5:06pm

    “… we must all receive assurances that British citizens’ privacy will be respected and safeguarded before the quieter lanes of our country suddenly start to appear, wholesale, on the internet.”

    I don’t follow this. Surely it’s the urban pictures that have already appeared that raise questions of privacy – to a far greater extent than photos of quiet country lanes, containing few houses and fewer people?

  • Sorry, but I have to agree with the other commenters – this is the wrong bandwagon to jump on, and by focusing on a non-issue you’re letting a really serious point slip by.

    Google takes one-off pictures of streets and buildings – to classify it as surveillance is just idiotic. They blur faces and license plates where they appear. They let you see what information they are collecting by publishing it on the internet, and if you don’t like the photo you can have it removed. That sounds like a responsible company, providing complete transparency and control to the people who are affected.

    By comparison, every day I pass an estimated 300 CCTV cameras, owned by a mix of public and private bodies. I don’t know who any of them are. I don’t know what information they have about me, how long they keep it or what they use it for. I don’t have any way of asking to view the images, or ask to have them deleted. Doesn’t that sound like a REAL problem – something I’d expect my party to tackle, rather than chasing press trinkets?

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