The Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Developments in privacy law and writings of a Canadian privacy lawyer, containing information related to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (aka PIPEDA) and other Canadian and international laws.

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The author of this blog, David T.S. Fraser, is a Canadian privacy lawyer who practices with the firm of McInnes Cooper. He is the author of the Physicians' Privacy Manual. He has a national and international practice advising corporations and individuals on matters related to Canadian privacy laws.

For full contact information and a brief bio, please see David's profile.

Please note that I am only able to provide legal advice to clients. I am not able to provide free legal advice. Any unsolicited information sent to David Fraser cannot be considered to be solicitor-client privileged.

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The views expressed herein are solely the author's and should not be attributed to his employer or clients. Any postings on legal issues are provided as a public service, and do not constitute solicitation or provision of legal advice. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained herein or linked to. Nothing herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.

This web site is presented for informational purposes only. These materials do not constitute legal advice and do not create a solicitor-client relationship between you and David T.S. Fraser. If you are seeking specific advice related to Canadian privacy law or PIPEDA, contact the author, David T.S. Fraser.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Some thoughts on street photography 

Simon Fodden, the head slawer over at has a great post to end the week (The Friday Fillip – Slaw), pointing to a great piece of photographic excellence "We're all gonna die". It's a 100m long photograph of people taken from Warshauer Strasse in Berlin. Go take a look at it, then come back here.

Simon notes that you can't go and see the location on Google Street View, presumably because of the supposed privacy issues that the German government has with street level imaging. That's too bad.

Simon brings up the broader topic of the privacy issues of photographing people, particularly in public places. It's an issue that has come up in all the discussions about Google Street View and other street imaging products out there on the 'net. I've given this topic a bit of thought, being simultaneously a privacy nerd, photo nerd and history nerd. Obviously, taking photos of people raises privacy issues but I don't have much of a problem when photos are taken in public places. People simply have diminished expectations of privacy on a public street. I like that Google and some others have allowed individual "vetoes", so that anyone who does not want to appear online can have the image taken down.

That's not to say that wholesale surveillance is ok, but when the images are being taken primarily of places and the people are incidental, I don't think this is what privacy laws were designed to protect us against. (The line can blur towards stalking or harassment if you follow a person in a public area and continue to take their photo, but that's not at issue here.)

Canadian privacy laws are meant to address commercial activity. To me, this sort of imaging is not "commercial" but fits under the exception of "journalistic, artistic and literary" expression, which is expressly excluded from PIPEDA.

My firm's property department has some great historical publications on the original property grants for Halifax. They include all sorts of info, like what was where, who owned what. For a history nerd, it is fascinating. It's a cool city with a neat history. I've spent hours looking at historical photos of Halifax. Many of them have people in them, which only adds to the value. I don't care who they, but what they are doing, where they are going and what they are wearing add so much to the historical significance of the photos.

I can't wait until the technology has been around long enough so that not only will you be able to stroll down a virtual street, but you'll be able to scroll back through history. Imagine looking at a downtown street in Street View and being able to choose to see what it looked like last year, five years go, ten years ago and fifty years ago. Not only will that be immensely cool, academics will have an incredibly valuable resource at their disposal.

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