Two Privacy issues to Ponder

Jennifer Stoddart - the Canadian Privacy Commissioner - wants to be able  "to begin imposing fines – significant, attention-getting fines – on companies when poor privacy and security practices lead to breaches."  Here is the news release she issued yesterday.

This would be a significant departure from the current role of the privacy commissioner.  Would the spectre of fines for privacy breaches actually change behaviour enough to reduce breaches?  Is is a good idea to have the same entity investigate, prosecute, and decide on penalties?  (That's not without precedent - such penalties are sometimes refered to as administrative monetary penalties - but they are essentially still fines.)

Currently the Privacy Commissioner does not have order making powers.  It issues findings and recommendations.  If those recommendations are ignored, the Commissioner can take the matter to the Federal court for enforcement.

For a more in depth discussion of this, take a look at David Fraser's thoughts.

Another issue to think about is how privacy relates to photos of people on the streets.  In most countries, privacy commissioners take the position that Google Street view images must blur faces because a photo of a person at a particular place and time is personal information.

Contrast that with the fact that the BBC has released high definition images of the royal wedding procession inviting people to find themselves in the crowd.

Also to the fact that no doubt those images include police officers and other security personnel.  Yet at the same time - particularly in the UK - police often harass and arrest people for doing no more than taking photos that include police or public facilities.

To me those are inconsistent.  If there is a distinction, it is subtle - too subtle to merit different treatment.  For more thoughts on that see this post by Mike Masnick of Techdirt, and this post by a UK blogger.