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Monday, 2 May 2011

Privacy balance: one rule for Google, another for the BBC

Privacy balance: the BBC have released an ultra-high definition picture of the royal wedding procession under the headline Royal wedding: Spot yourself in our hi-def crowd picture.

This raises an interesting question on  privacy and balance.

Google decided to blur the faces of ordinary people going about their ordinary activities caught on Street View.

The BBC have decided, where events like the Royal Wedding are concerned, it's fine to have high definition street shots showing the faces of ordinary people in the crowd; not to mention police officers, armed forces and - presumably - under-cover crowd security officers.

I can see the two issues are different - but they're closely related.  I don't have strong feelings either way on either instance.  I wrote previously about Google street view: At what point does helping police become an invasion of privacy?

I'm raising this as an important question that will keep coming up over the coming years.  It goes far beyond the questions of privacy law used by celebrities that has catapulted super-injunctions into the spotlight.  We simply can't say how society will evolve to balance the rights of ordinary folk in public against legitimate news reporting or highly useful public services such as Google Street View.

I also want to draw attention to the continuing harassment of street photographers such as a 16-year-old freelancer arrested for taking pictures of cadets.

On this I do have strong feelings - police actions must be open to public scrutiny, or we risk creating laws that could be abused to mask misconduct.  A couple of lessons from the US on this: Arrested for Filming Police and Weare police charge man for recording traffic stop.


1 comment:

  1. Google has the problem that it needs a policy which fits as many legal jurisdictions as possible. In France, for example, you own the rights to your own image. Blurring the faces is a simple, achievable, solution which covers a wide range of countries. The BBC just has to satisfy English law for that image which is (in theory) very liberal.


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