Privacy international (PI) is calling for a review of the Information Commissioner following a series of failed judgements culminating in their recent complaint against Google Street View. Privacy International says that the Commissioner has failed to uphold the principles and the spirit of the Data Protection Act.
The Commissioner recently overruled a complaint by Privacy International who argued that Google should have instituted stronger privacy protections and that it should have pursued full notice and consent for its activities. The Commissioner responded on 30th March arguing that Street View did not breach the Data Protection Act and that the service should proceed unhindered.
In a press release on the ruling the Information Commissioner said:
In the same way there is no law against anyone taking pictures of people in the street as long as the person using the camera is not harassing people. Google Street View does not contravene the Data Protection Act and, in any case, it is not in the public interest to turn the digital clock back.
Privacy International in their press release responded:
The Information Commissioner has clearly decided that pragmatism and commercial interest should triumph over principle. This is a dangerous trend and one that is clearly responsible for Britain's appalling surveillance culture. For a regulatory body in any domain to take such an approach would be an abdication of its responsibility; for the statement to be so blatant about their disregard is unforgiveable.
Privacy International pointed out: "While this appalling disregard for openness and process is a worrying trend across the global regulatory landscape, as an international watchdog we can attest that we have not witnessed degradation to the extent demonstrated by the UK ICO [Information Commissioners Office]."
Privacy International is calling for a 'root and branch' overhaul of the Commissioner's Office by Parliament. Read their full press release here.
Meanwhile Google has announced an experimental search engine tool 'Similar Images' - an image search which uses a picture rather than text to find other matching images. When Street View launched we warned:
Another technology in the pipeline is image searching based on a starting image. When that is perfected it will be possible to enter say an anti-war poster and then search Google Street View images to find places where such a poster is displayed. Whilst this feature may not be on the front page of Google it is likely that police and security services will have the ability.
Experts have been predicting that this sort of technology would take around ten years to perfect on the internet but it now appears Google may have the capability of this type of search much sooner. It is incredible that the Information Commissioners Office, the body set up to "promote access to official information and to protect personal information", should have no issue with Google Street View and state that "it is not in the public interest to turn the digital clock back". At some point limits must be defined otherwise technological advancements will continue to dismantle privacy until none is left.
Clearly the Data Protection Act and the Information Commissioners Office are failing. If we care at all about our privacy, it is up to us to preserve it.