Gareth’s Blog

Just another weblog


A strange yet predictable chorus of doubt has arisen from the thoughtless classes. An objection to the activities of an international corporation. Activities so foul it is almost unimaginable.

On the 18th of March Google launched Street View. An amazing project which photographed and mapped 25 cities around Britain. Already completed in cities across the world, this vast project appears to have inspired a privacy frenzy normally only reserved for anti-drug campaigns and dangerous dogs.

The complainers are about 25 years too late to the party. And have turned up at the wrong address.

The objections appear to centre around the notion that people’s privacy is being invaded. That by photographing streets or, more pertinently, what is happening in them, Google have gone too far. Seriously, who do they think they are? If I don’t want to be seen in public, it’s my right to go out in public and not be seen, right? Wait. What?

Claiming an invasion of privacy because Street View has a photograph of your home of managed to capture you walking down the street is ludicrous. It’s tantamount to complaining that someone spotted you from the top deck of a bus. Frankly Street View is just another photograph that was taken that day (last summer, incidentally). At least it was a one off.

The average London worker is caught on camera about 300 times a day. In many cases on video, rather than still. And that face recognition technology that Google used to blur faces for the sake of privacy, well that may well have been used to cross check you against a databank of criminals’ images.

Aside from government CCTV, in place for security reasons, they will have been caught on bus, train and/or tube cameras. As well as those in the stations. And the transport cameras operated privately or publically for monitoring transport links. Then, of course, the security cameras in the newsagents where they picked up their copy of the Daily Mail (complete with an article on the amusing images found on Street View!). Then every other shop they walked in front of after that. Then all the private businesses along that road. Then by the company they work for when they got in ten minutes late. And, of course, in the reverse order on the way home.

All of this isn’t forgetting that some of their neighbours may have home security systems which incorporate CCTV.

There is also the fact that it is perfectly legal to be filmed or photographed in public and have those images broadcast or published, as long as you are not the focus of the image, without your permission. Or rather, with the permission you gave by being in public.

Street View is no more an invasion of privacy than me walking past your home and looking at the lovely new pebble-dashing you’ve applied to its front. If it can be viewed from the street, it’s OK on Street View.

The real invasion of privacy that should be causing muscle spasms and your arms to be fired into the air is the government’s proposal to monitor social networking sites. More specifically, to monitor the conversations you’re having on them and with whom you’re having them.

Not only do they intend to monitor this, but they want to be able to save this information (your private conversations) for reference.

They’ve already proposed email and phone call monitoring as standard and as technology and digital fashions advance (or perhaps “change” is a better description), the intrusions proposed will presumably advance. I hate to sound like the newspaper readers I earlier mocked, but isn’t this all just a little 1984?

Unfortunately as Street View replaces Twitter as the press’ lazy-article generator of choice, the people whose opinions are formed entirely by the tabloids’ statements are going to continue to ignore the real threats to our freedom. Instead they are going to cause enough of a distraction for government invasions of privacy to slip through unnoticed.

Street View is an amazing tool, the applications for which are mainly yet to be realised. The government’s latest proposal reflects a threat which is yet to be properly feared. Redirect your passion for privacy and make your objections to the real risks.

As a recommendation to anyone interested in this sort of thing, I’d recommend having a read of Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. It’s a novel that takes exactly this sort of thing into account. Because if you thought Banksy was just being a bit clever with his Newman Street graffiti, it’s time to think again.

2 Responses to “Rant”

  1. […] Direct link to the rant. […]

  2. […] A moron. This is the sort of idiot I was ranting about. He objects to the Street View cameras, then allows himself to be fimled outside his own house for […]

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