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:


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.


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:


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.


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.


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”):


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.


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.


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”.


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.


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