Earlier this week, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre attracted considerable attention by raising the privacy concerns associated with Google Street View. Poilievre was quoted asking "is there going to be a mass database of people's images? What are the benefits to Canada of allowing this to occur?" The original article states that:
Poilievre said he is particularly concerned about the original versions of those images that will be archived by Google. The original versions of the images will not be blurred. He said they could pose a privacy risk for Canadians if they somehow leaked out. He also questioned where the images would be stored and whether privacy laws could protect Canadians if the images were stored on a foreign computer server.
Poilievre appears to have had a change of heart. His concerns are not that Canadian privacy law is too weak to address these issues, but rather that it is too strong. In a National Post op-ed, Poilievre is now concerned that Canadian privacy law might create a barrier to Google Street View. He starts by noting:
The presence of Google’s Street View in Canadian cities is great news. It will showcase our urban life and attract tourists. It will allow parents to preview potential living conditions, as their kids leave the nest to go to university. It will bring us in line with American, European and Asians cities that have hosted this service since 2007.
While he earlier stated that he was concerned about storing the original images archived by Google (which the Privacy Commissioner rightly states involves issues of consent and correction of inaccuracies), he now worries that "Google could not store the images of the thousands of people it photographs without the prior permission of each and every one of them. That would be impossible, not to mention ridiculous."
So what does Poilievre actually want? He now says the law needs to be updated to create an exemption for photographic mapping systems. He concludes that "if the law does not accommodate this useful and popular service, then maybe the law needs fixing. The committee should come up with that fix now. Let’s get to work."
Poilievre fails to mention that his committee already spent months looking at Canadian private sector privacy law and developed many recommendations for reform in 2007, none of which have been implemented. Or he might mention that his committee spent months looking at the woefully outdated public sector privacy law but has yet to release a report and recommendations. If he is serious about addressing Canadian privacy law, he could address those issues, or the do-not-call disaster, or the absence of anti-spam legislation, or the cross-border data transfer concerns. There is plenty he can do now without trying to undo a balance that permits a service like Google Street View but provides Canadians with some basic privacy safeguards.