A recent article on CNET discusses some of the privacy concerns associated with Google's new street-level maps (and similar on-line services). http://news.com.com/Cameras+everywhere,+even+in+online+maps/2100-1038_3-6187556.html?tag=nefd.top. These concerns are discussed in more detail in blogs such as Boingboing http://www.boingboing.net/2007/05/30/google_maps_is_spyin.html and The Map Room http://www.mcwetboy.net/maproom/2007/05/google_maps_str_1.php.
These discussions highlight that the public -- including lawmakers -- is still coming to grips with the relationship between spatial technology and privacy issues. For many people, it is one thing for someone, while on a public street, to take a picture of another person or their house. It is something completely different however to display that same picture on the web with time, location and other information that helps to identify that person-- even if the information is publicly available -- and to make a profit from it. In fact, in Virginia such action could result in a legal claim: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+8.01-40
A key challenge for spatial technology companies will be to anticipate where the law is headed on this topic as the technology becomes more ubiquitious. The spatial technology industry may consider moving away from the concept of privacy per se and think more in terms of identifying and protecting "personally identifiable information" in a spatial context. Personally identifiable information can be derfined has been defined as any piece of information which can potentially be used to uniquely identify, contact, or locate a single person. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personally_identifiable_information. This is a concept that lawmakers, and their consituents, are becoming familiar with in regards to the medical and financial services industries. It may serve as a helpful model in the future for the spatial technology industry.