Is Google Street View Legal in the UK?

Google Street View

A lot of fuss is happening in the UK regarding the legality of Google Street View. Though the service has been out in the US for about two years now, the UK only got it last month. Many people, including Privacy International, believe that that service is illegal in the UK. Google was aware that the original format of the service would have potentially violated UK legislation, but it consulted the ICO which approved the service when Google stated that it will blur the faces of pedestrians and car number plates.

Some people still argue that their privacy is infringed, but do they have any basis for this argument? 

There are two grounds for suing for the “privacy” violation in the UK, the first is through the Data Protection Act 1998 and the second is through the Article 8 on Privacy of the Human Rights Act 1998.

I will discuss the DPA in this post and will discuss Artile 8 in another post.

Does Google Street View Violate the DPA 1998?

The DPA 1998 covers personal data related to identifiable living persons when processed by a data collector. On its face, Google might fall under the act as it the scope of the act is very wide to include any information related to individual processed in any way using a computer. However, looking closer at the definitions of the these terms might indicate otherwise.

First of all, the personal data (in this case the photograph of the individual and their location when photographed by Google) must ‘relate’ to an identifiable person. The requirement for the info to ‘relate’ to the person is not defined by the act, but the court said in the case of Durant v Financial Services Authority [2003] EWCA Civ 1746 that the mere inclusion of someone’s information in the data is not sufficient for it to ‘relate’ to him. The person must be the ‘focus’ of the  information for it to relate to him and it must affect his privacy whether in his personal, family life, business or professional capacity.

There mere inclusion of someone’s photo on the street in an incidental manner which does not show him as a focus nor affects his privacy in anyway will probably not be held by the court to be falling under the DPA. This means will exclude these pictures from the scope of the act.

In circumstances where a person is the focus of a photograph and the picture shows him in a situation that infringes his privacy that person will be covered by the act if that person is identifiable. Google has tried to blur as many faces as it can. If this person cannot be identified by looking at the picture then that information is not covered by the act. The fact that the person can be identified by using the Google Street View information with other information taken from other sources which help identify the person will not bring the information within the scope of the act.

There are no such thing as the right not have to someone’s house or neighbourhood photographed. The DPA is about personal information and not about owned objects or companies.

Even if someone’s data is considered to fall under the DPA, that does not give them the right to ask for that information to be removed – except in situation of direct marketing or situations where the information causes substantial unwarranted damage or distress.

There is no requirement for a person to ‘consent’ to have his information processed under the DPA if the data collector satisfies any of the conditions of Schedule 2 of the act.

Google’s original form of Street View might have violated the DPA, but their current form with blurred faces and number plates would not violate the DPA if it works correctly to make the individuals unidentifiable. The majority of people photographed in the public not doing anything private would not be subject to the DPA even if there faces were not covered as the information would not be considered to be ‘related’ to them if Durant is to be applied.

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