Friday, March 5, 2010

Billions of photos online, Billions of privacy offenders?

With the proliferation of Internet platforms for user-generated content, people are increasingly seeing examples where one person's right to freedom of expression may infringe someone else's right to privacy, and vice-versa. If I upload my holiday pictures to the Internet, taken from a public place, and if they capture you lounging by your pool, does my freedom of expression trump your right to privacy, or the other way around? Whatever you think, there are already billions of such photos online and publicly accessible.

Both freedom of expression and privacy are fundamental human rights. But those rights are not both equally enforced, protected or policed. There are literally thousands of data protection bureaucrats in Europe whose job is to enforce European data protection regulations. As far as I can tell, there is not a single government official in all of Europe whose sole job is to do the same for freedom of expression. Curious, no?

As I go to privacy-centric conferences where people invariably talk about the problems and risks of social networking sites, I'm often the odd guy out who seems to think that they're also precious platforms for freedom of expression. Lots of guys in power lecture about how lives or careers or futures are jeopardized by a single embarrassing photo posted to a platform.

Well, I'm not so sure. I was thinking about what this guy showed when he was young, and he just got elected Senator, so maybe things are changing.

A privacy regulator in Europe told me the other day that he thought it was a data protection violation for anyone to post a photo online if it captured someone's face or property without their consent. I asked him whether he thought this restricted the right to freedom of expression. He didn't seem to understand the question.


Anonymous said...

i don't understand the question either.

I can see where this question would like to push the debate, but it don't really stand a chance to get understood and accepted for cultural and historical reasons in France.

To make short,in France the law is (still) superior to the lawyers ;)

From a more serious point of view, it's up to the individuals to decide about their privacy concerns.

Many years ago, as you seems to remember, it was already a fight just to get the opt-in option even considered.

And everything around privacy should be appreciated with both the public and private interests.

It's more about equity and balance than pure dogma.

Álvaro Del Hoyo said...


Conflict of rights where, normally, freedom of speech has a prevalent position.

Notwithstanding, freedom of speech has limits and these limits should be respected.

The question is if those limits of freedom of speech are still valid in nowadays society.

One of the areas to include in privacy directives for next years should be exactly that, balance between freedom of speech and privacy.

And social media definition should be included. Is Google a social media globally, or only particularly as regards determine services? Is a blog a social media?

Bear in mind, Considerings 17 and 37, and art. 9 Directive 95/46/EC.

Should be privacy regulations restricted interpretation extendend to other kind of personal data? And to other personal data treatment purposes?

This is what I was suggesting you in previous comment regarding the Google Italy incident.

First argument against the ruling should be that safe harbours apply to personal data treatment made by users even considering art. 1.5.b Directive 2000/31/EC exception -in my opinion, this article is mentioning for instance traffic and location data regulations that should be considered by telco operators in services that are at the same time e-communications and informations society services-.

Anyway, if Italian judge is considering exception in art. 1.5.b Directive 2000/31/EC as safe harbors do not apply to privacy infringements -so monitoring obligation exists regarding that kind of infringements-, then it is relevant that Italy they are keen to consider Youtube, Google Video,... as social media, so may be you can ask Italian judge to restrictedly interpret privacy law, i.e., may be economic sanctions are applicable for Google, but not crime conviction for Google managers.

Such a decision would be good for you Google managers convicted, but it still will be negative for Information society.

Notwithstanding, considering services as Google Video, Youtube,... as social media has its own negative affects and difficulties such as who is the editor Youtube or Youtube user? Are the users under your management faculties like journalists to editing companies?

Un saludo

Chris Tolles said...

Ok, there's an argument to be made that identifiable pictures taken withour consent are a privacy violation. But property? Say *what*?

Interesting way you have juxtaposed privacy and freedom of expression.

Rooting for you :-)

Chris Tolles
CEO, Topix

Unknown said...

"a data protection violation for anyone to post a photo online if it captured someone's face or property without their consent."

What about in a newspaper? By this standard, a crowd photo at a public event can't be printed either. How about during an election? No more pictures of politicians kissing babies or shaking hands (wait, that might not be a bad thing).

If this is true, then I consider it a data protection violation at red light cameras, radar cameras, cameras on the street. By this thinking, viewing someone's face in public is pretty much a privacy violation.