Privacy issues over Terralink's camera scan

Wellington streets are being been filmed and mapped in 3-D by local firm Terralink using a truck that is creating the equivalent of Google StreetView on steroids.

Terralink managing director Mike Donald said he did not believe its "StreetCam3D" project had privacy implications. But assistant privacy commissioner Katrine Evans said it would expect Terralink to have safeguards in place to remove any personal information it recorded.

Donald said the truck had filmed and scanned two-thirds of Wellington and would cover all 126,000 kilometres of New Zealand streets and highways over the next two years. It was capable of recording the position and appearance of every object within 100 metres with "pinpoint accuracy".

The million-dollar investment by the 76-person former state- owned enterprise, now in private hands, makes use of a technology called called LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), also sometimes known as "laser radar".

Donald said that would provide a "near perfect model" of the street environment that engineers could use to undertake almost any analysis without leaving their offices.

The specially imported truck could capture up to 1.33 million points of location data, in every direction, every second.

It would finish filming Wellington streets in about a week and would then start work in Auckland.

"We are capturing what anyone can see walking or driving down the street and our business is around land and property information, not personal information," Donald said.

However, Evans said that "as with other companies using street- level filming" it would expect Terralink to have privacy-protective safeguards in place. "3-D spatial data doesn't in itself necessarily create a major increase in privacy risk, but the technology involves high-resolution imagery.

Street-level filming almost inevitably captures images of people, and the higher the resolution, the more that care is needed."

Evans said she would expect Terralink to use "blurring or pixilation to de-identify people and vehicles" before its images were used or disclosed.

"Particular care is needed when filming near sensitive areas as well, such as schools refuges and so on," she said.

Donald said the imagery itself was no higher-resolution than non-LiDAR StreetCam footage Terralink had previously taken after consulting Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff in 2008, and it did not intend to blur or pixilate any of its images.

Unlike Google's StreetView, Terralink will not be giving away all its StreetCam3D street-scape for free online.

Some footage may go on the web, for example to help people research homes through its property information website Zoodle, but Terralink hopes to sell much of the data it collects to utilities and local government.

Contact Tom Pullar-Strecker
Infotech editor
Twitter: @PullarStrecker

The Dominion Post