Following the controversy surrounding Google's Street View service, you could be forgiven for thinking that taking - and publishing - identifiable pictures of people in the street without their permission is illegal. But posting such images on the internet does not pose the same threat, according to the information watchdog.

PAGE 1: Street photos are legal

Following the controversy surrounding Google’s Street View service, you could be forgiven for thinking that taking – and publishing – identifiable pictures of people in the street without their permission is illegal. But posting such images on the internet does not pose the same threat, according to the information watchdog.

Google Street view and privacy

Asked why Google’s Street View is any different to a member of the public posting pictures they have taken on the World Wide Web, an Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) spokesman told Amateur Photographer: ‘There is a scale issue? Google Street View is available to all.’

He said that the seriousness of any privacy concern is linked to the ‘harm and distress’ an image may cause.

The spokesman added: ‘If you are taking pictures with a digital camera they aren’t necessarily available to all.’

Street View is ‘legal’

Taking a picture of someone in the street without their permission is legal in the UK.

Though the watchdog’s spokesman stressed that Google Street View is a ‘legal application in this country’, he said that the ICO would launch a formal investigation if Google was seen to breach an individual’s right to privacy on a ‘systematic’ basis without ‘safeguards’ in place.

Speaking about privacy, in general terms. earlier this year, photo rights lawyer Rupert Grey said: ‘You have complete freedom providing you are not harassing people. That is the key point as far as taking photographs is concerned.’

However, he pointed out that it is the issue of ‘publishing photographs’ around which the law of privacy has developed. ‘This is a relatively new part of our system of rights,’ he said.

And he explained that posting a photo of a celebrity, such as Naomi Campbell, on an image-sharing website such as Facebook, would amount to ‘publication’ and give rise to a ‘potential claim’ for damages on grounds of invasion of privacy.

PAGE 2: Google plays down concerns

Google plays down complaints

Despite the furore surrounding the launch of Street View, the ICO says it has not yet received a single complaint about Google Street View from a member of the public.

Meanwhile, the search engine giant has attempted to play down any privacy concerns after it agreed to remove certain controversial images in the past few days.

Google spokeswoman Laura Scott told us: ‘We take privacy very seriously which is why, when we announced Street View for the UK, we explained our easy-to-use removals process for images that people found inappropriate: simply click ‘report a concern’ and report the image.

Scott declined to tell us how many images have been removed so far.

The ICO urges anyone who is concerned over an image to contact Google. ‘It is Google’s responsibility to ensure all vehicle registration marks, and faces, are satisfactorily blurred,’ said the ICO in a statement.

‘Individuals who feel that an image does identify them (and are unhappy with this) should contact Google direct to get the image removed.

‘Individuals who have raised concerns with Google about their image being included – and who do not think they have received a satisfactory response – can complain to the ICO.’

Google Street View NEWS UPDATE 24 March