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Would Google Maps Street View be legal in Canada?

The privacy commissioner in Canada says Google Maps’ new high-resolution images in its Street View feature could violate Canada’s privacy laws because citizens may not know they have been photographed, according to The Canadian Press.

Street View isn’t available yet in Canada, but has been rolled out to nine major cities in the U.S. since May. The maps show close-up, high-resolution images in San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area only. After initial criticism about privacy concerns, Google quietly changed its policy to allow anyone to notify the company when a recognizable face or license plate number has been captured, not just the person photographed.

Canada Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart has written to Google, and Calgary-based Immersive Media, Google’s technology partner on the imagery, and asked the companies to respond to her concerns. Stoddart told Immersive she was aware that the company already has a database of images of people in Canada.

The high-resolution pictures could violate Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2004, she said.

Street View “does not appear to meet the basic requirements of knowledge, consent, and limited collection and use as set out in the legislation,” she wrote. “Our Office considers images of individuals that are sufficiently clear to allow an individual to be identified to be personal information within the meaning of PIPEDA.”

Allowing people to request removal of images is only a partial solution because the damage has already been done to their privacy, she said.

Update 11:30 a.m. PT: Google has e-mailed this statement: “At Google we take privacy very seriously and comply with the local laws of the countries in which we operate. Street View only features imagery taken on public property. This imagery is several months old and is no different from what any person can readily capture or see walking down the street. Imagery of this kind is available in a wide variety of formats for cities all around the world. While the Street View feature enables people to easily find, discover, and plan activities relevant to a location, we respect the fact that people may not want imagery they feel is objectionable featured on the service. We provide easily accessible tools for flagging inappropriate or sensitive imagery for review and removal.”

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