Sunday, July 22, 2007

Spatial Privacy - What is it? What should it be?

I have been asked to give a talk on privacy and spatial technology in December to a group of lawyers interested in the legal aspects of remote sensing. Before putting together my remarks, I am very interested in learning what those in the spatial community think privacy is in a spatial context, and just as importantly, what it should be. It is an important topic for the development of spatial technology. However, it has not yet been codified, in the U.S. at least. in any meaningful way. As a result, one is forced to look at other areas of law for guidance. For example, if and when should a person have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" with respect to his or her location? Should there be a "reasonable expectation of privacy" with respect to a particular person or group, such as a spouse, an employer, or law enforcement? Similarly, should location-based information be subject to the same legal protection as "personally identifiable information" -- such as credit card information or medical records? I encourage you to provide your thoughts and comments below.


L said...

Some of these issues were explored in the "Location Privacy Workshop: Individual Autonomy as a Driver of Design", Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine, USA, August 2004:

Philip said...


In the light of the acquisition of Tele Atlas by TomTom I have the following question:
In their announcement TomTom said that they are hoping to use their "installed user base of over 10 million GPS devices to effectively operate as map surveyors in an automatic and simple way".

I was wondering how spatial privacy will applied to such an automated feedback loop. Yes, I know there is very little information on how this might work from a process and/or technical point of view.

Let's suppose they can't tie back usage data to personal user data. In this case this might not present a privacy issue, what do you think?
Otherwise they'll know exactly when a consumer had her TomTom on and where she was driving to and when.

Please feel free to post to my blog at

Ed said...

The "reasonable expectation of privacy" is pretty dicey, I'd say, especially when you are parsing it geographicallly. I mean, how is the location "part" of any communication so separate from the communicaation itself. By communication, I mean any form of contact (physical, verbal, written, etc.) Although I am not a lawyer, nor do I have extensive personal experience of being deprived of such privacy rights, I do not believe that the protections afforded individuals "in their home" or in other places should be under-cut by additional legal wrangling about the use of technology devices to determine those locations. The technology to "listen" to my telephonic conversations has existed for decades, yet I still have wire-tapping protections (Patriot Act aside for now), don't I?