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Japan: Municipal opposition to Street View

Demands by municipal assemblies and bar associations across Japan that Google revise [ja] or even halt altogether [ja] its new Street View service, rolled out in 12 Japanese cities late last summer to mixed reactions, have triggered renewed debate on issues of privacy and the limits of public space. The latest moves by municipal governments come on the heels of demands by a group of Japanese lawyers and professors, who petitioned Google in mid-December to retract its service. In this latest stage of the ongoing debate about GSV, the Tokyo municipal government on February 3rd invited Google to discuss its service with the public. A transcript of the session [ja] was posted online by blogger and security researcher Hiromitsu Takagi [高木浩光].

The latest round of discussions on GSV has again sparked concerns about stalkers potentially using Google's service to no good [ja], with cases being reported of online bullying through the use of linking on bulletin boards such as 2channel. In a Feb. 11th post at GRASSBLOG, one blogger describes a more subtle incident of privacy violation [ja] through GSV:

親しくしているけどまだ自宅に招待していない知人から、ある日突然、自分の住所を正確に言い当てたメールが送られてきました。その人が知っているのは私の最寄駅と、大まかにどの辺に住んでいるかという情報。とはいえ常識的に考えてこれだけで正確な住所は特定出来るはずがないと思うのですが(そもそも常識的に考えてそういうことをしないで貰いたい。親しき仲にも礼儀あり)。聞くところによると、「その辺をGoogleストリートビューで見てたら、以前(私から)見せてもらった写真と同じ風景があったから、そこが自宅なんだとわかった」とのこと。慌てて確認してみると、インターネット上に、見なれた我が家の外観がばっちり写っているではありませんか。

A friend of mine, someone who I am close to but have never invited to my home, one day sent me an email in which they were suddenly able to correctly guess my address. [Before guessing my address], this friend of mine already knew my local train station, and also knew roughly the area in which I live. Even so, however, common sense would dictate that there is no way a person could correctly identify an address from only this basic information (I'd like to believe that, from the start, ordinarily people wouldn't try to do that. Manners are needed even between close friends.) When I asked [how the friend had figured out my address], they said, “When I looked around your area on Google Street View, I saw the same scenery I remembered from a photo you had shown me earlier, so I realized that it had to be your house.” Panicking, I had a look for myself, and sure enough there was the exterior of my home, photographed and on the Internet.

こうなってみて初めてわかる、自宅というものが自分にとっていかに大切で、神聖であるのかということ。自分と生まれ持った家族以外には不可侵の住処(たまに友達を呼ぶ、とかそういうのは置いといて、日常的な意味で)。外観とはいえ、家族と過ごす居間、誰の目も気にせずくつろぐ自室、いつも出入りする玄関。これを、他人に勝手に撮られた写真で俯瞰して見るというのがこんなに薄気味悪いものだとは。

This is how I first came to understand just how important, and how sacred, a person's home really is. A dwelling impenetrable to all but you and your family (in an everyday sense, putting aside the times when you invite friends over and things like that.) [GSV may only capture] the exterior, but even so [you can see] the living room where we and our families spend time together, our own rooms where we can be alone, and the entrance halls that we come in and out of every day. That another person can peer into all of this from pictures taken without our knowledge or consent is what gives us such an uneasy feeling.

In a post entitled, “Will Street View be continued?”, blogger Nono considers the issue [ja] from a different perspective:

平成3年5月にいわゆる「暴力団対策法」が施行された。このときに初めて「暴力団員」という言葉が法律で明文化されたのである。それまでは大学のサークルや、主婦のお茶会などと同様に単なる任意団体に過ぎなかった。同法施行により公安委員会から「指定暴力団」と指定された組織が、それまで取り締まりが難しかった、民事介入暴力などのグレーゾーンの行為に対し、当局が中止命令を出したり罰則規定も設けられた。

In May of 1991, the so-called “Anti-Organized Crime Law” came into effect. It was at that time that the word “gangster” [暴力団員] was first stipulated in law. Up until then, they were treated as nothing more than a “private organization” [任意団体], just like university clubs or housewives’ tea ceremonies. Authorities ordered an end to formerly difficult to control grey-zone activities by organizations identified as “bōryokudan” [指定暴力団/crime syndicates], such as violence intervening in civil affairs, and established corresponding penal regulations.

グーグル社の「ストリートビュー(SV)」が問題視されているが、SVは上記「暴対法」が施行される前の、グレーゾーンのようなサービスであるように思える。グーグル社が主張する「公道での撮影は問題がない」ということ自体は正しいからだ。

Google's “Street View (SV)” is viewed as a problem, but it would seem that SV is a service in a grey zone of the kind that existed prior to the time that the “Anti-Organized Crime Law” was put into effect. Because Google's claims that “there is no problem with taking photographs of public streets” are, in and of themselves, correct.

その一方で、SVに対して、全国から規制を求める声が高まっている。「プライバシーの侵害」だとの反対派意見が多くなってきたのだ。福岡県弁護士会は「多数の市民の肖像を根こそぎ撮影し、事前に撮影の説明がない」とグーグル側にサービスの中止を求めた。東京・町田市議会などでは国に対策を取るように要望書を出している。

On the other hand, there are calls from around the country demanding that SV be regulated. Those opposed to the service, who consider [Street View] a “privacy violation”, have grown in number. The Fukuoka prefecture bar association has demanded that Google halt its service, stating that, “Many citizens have had their faces caught in the photographs, with no explanation given before the photographs were taken.” The Tokyo and Machida city councils have petitioned the government to adopt countermeasures.

Finally, at Eternal Place Hokkaido, blogger pira takes a different position [ja], comparing Street View to Doraemon's dream-like “doko demo doa” (or “anywhere door”):

日本は自宅の玄関に、「ここは〇〇の家です」とわかるように当たり前のように人様に公開しているのが殆どです。街頭から見えるところに洗濯物を干すのもある意味見られても仕方ない、あるいは気にしないから干してるのだと思います。それが写真として公開されると個人情報の流失というのでしょうか?私はちょっと違う気がします。どうしてもというならその箇所だけぼかせば済むことです。

In Japan, most people find it natural to announce to everyone, at the front entryway to their home, that “This is the home of so-and-so.” There's nothing anyone can do either if people see from the street the clothing they hang out on the line; or it's just that nobody pays any attention, and that's why people hang their clothing outside. But now if this is photographed and made public, would you consider that a leak of personal information? I don't think so personally. After all, if you really had to, you could just blur out that one location.

ただ、個人が公開の拒否を申請するのはいいとして、自治体が規制の動きをしていることを聞くと、なんだか時代に逆行している気分をおぼえたりするのです。

However, although I think it's fine that individuals themselves apply to request removal of such photographs, these moves by municipalities toward regulation just seem to me to be somehow going against the times.

場所の確認、見積などに利用されれば、コストが下がるサービスも出てくるはずです。個人にとっても行きたいところの景色が見れてお金もかからないですし、思い出の場所にも簡単に行けます。まさにそれは待ち望んでいたドラえもんの「どこでもドア」、夢のマシーンです。

Services are sure to come out that will bring down costs by making use of location confirmation and assessment. People are also able, using GSV, to take a look and check out what the place they're heading for actually looks like, as well as visit places that they remember from their past. [If you think about it this way, GSV] is nothing less than Doraemon's dream machine, the eagerly-awaited “doko demo doa”.

ストリートビューの良さをもっと考えて、世論が地図の可能性を閉じてしまわないことを私は願っています。

I'm really hoping that people think more about the positives of Street View, and that they don't close the door on the opportunities that it makes possible.

2 comments

  • Hi, Chris

    Thank you for quoting my blog!
    I don’t know what happen of SV in the future. In Japan there are many narrow streets, so many house are viewed easily by SV.

    If SV is used as a tool something bad, Google have to assume full responsibilities.

    Thanks.

  • Hi Nono,

    Thanks for your comment. I found your comparison with the Anti-Organized Crime Law very interesting.

    Curious to see what will eventually happen with this issue.

    Chris

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