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To what extent is it legal to wear smart glasses like Facebook’s and record everything and everyone on the street

Glasses with integrated camera. What can go wrong? It’s been quite a few years since Google Glass, but tech makers aren’t giving up. Now Facebook presents the Ray-Ban Stories, in collaboration with the well-known brand of glasses. And again it is worth wondering about what does the Spanish law say about constantly recording on the street.

Is it legal to record everyone while we walk? How does the fact that they can record us so easily affect our privacy? Here we explain what are the basic points that must be met and what is the position of the Spanish Agency for Data Protection regarding these smart glasses.

Recording on public roads can be legal, but be careful what you do with those images or videos

One thing is to record in the street and another is to publish these images or videos on the internet.

Use these smart glasses to record or take photos it’s no different from practicing doing it with a smartphone. In a generic way, the recording of the voice or the capture of images of a person supposes data protected by the Organic Law on Protection of Personal Data and therefore cannot be carried out without their consent or other legal basis.

However, it is possible to record on public roads for personal use. What is relevant is the use made of these images or videos. And here there are many ways in which we could affect the rights of these people that we have recorded.

The AEPD establishes a series of categories where the installation of video surveillance cameras may be justified, from to guarantee the safety of people or facilities to other purposes such as the control of labor provision. Although, this would not be the case with glasses like those of Facebook. We can understand these glasses as a portable camera and unless we have the consent or authorization of the State security forces, their use is restricted and certain uses may lead to crimes.

“It does not seem that it is possible to find a basis of legitimacy for the use of these glasses without a specific reason that can justify their use, so go all the time recording would not be allowed“, explain to us Samuel Parra, EGIDA lawyer specialized in privacy and Data Protection.

Does this mean that we can’t make a video for Instagram or Tik Tok on the street? Not directly. When the recruitment of people are accessory, then your right to privacy should not be affected. This is the case of a photo on the beach for example.

There is no need to request permission in that example, but If it is the case that the person concerned asks us to remove the video, then it should be done because the law protects the right of the person who requests it. In this recording there are many aspects to take into account, for example with images of minors.

As with mobile cameras, we can take photos or videos on the beach, but always protecting people’s privacy.

There are times when the right to information prevails, for example when it is about a public person on the street or there is informational interest and the image is accessory. Although, they are specific cases that are hardly applicable to Facebook glasses, which may well be used in many moments.

What has Facebook done to try to guarantee privacy

Facebook is well aware of the privacy concerns it raises. In the case of its smart glasses, it has incorporated several sections with the intention of reducing privacy problems and complying with the legislation.

The first of these is a hardware protection with a power switch to turn off the cameras and microphone. A button that most of today’s devices that have microphones or cameras incorporate.

More interesting is the Indicator LED that is being recorded. Ray-Ban Stories emit white light when taking a photo or recording. This is a relevant point, since in these cases there is the obligation to inform to people on the public highway who may be the target of recording.

If this notice does not exist, the people who are being recorded could not exercise their right to request that the content be removed because they consider that their right to privacy is being violated. As Katie Notopoulus, editor of Buzzfeed, explains, covering this LED light implies breaking with the policy of wearing glasses.

One of the additions introduced by Facebook to avoid problems is the LED indicator that it is being recorded.

Facebook PrivacyFacebook Privacy

The operation of the Facebook glasses is quite specific. The images taken by the Ray-Ban Stories are sent to a ‘Facebook View’ application, but they are not uploaded directly to the company’s servers. That is, the videos and images are stored locally on the phone and are only sent to Facebook if they are published in the application, according to the company itself.

This local storage point is relevant since theoretically data processing of the recorded material is not being carried out.

And when we can record everything that happens around us 24 hours a day, what?

“The AEPD has spoken a couple of times on this issue; not specifically with glasses that record but with cameras in helmets or” on board “cameras of those that are put in cars. It does not matter if the recording device it is a helmet with a camera or glasses that have a built-in camera, the action of recording is the same “, explains Parra. “The thing is that the recordings were for very specific purposes, for example, on the subject of on-board cameras their use was allowed with some limitations: activation only to be able to reflect a possible traffic violation. Another limitation is that These images cannot be published on the Internet, unless the faces or any other information that could allow a person to be identified is blurred“.

The most repeated message by the AEPD for this type of device is that the “domestic” purpose is allowed, but its subsequent use is subject to the Data Protection regulations.

What position was adopted with previous glasses such as Google Glass

Smart GlassesSmart Glasses

The Google Glass ended up disappearing from the market, but these years we have seen models like the Spectacles of Snapchat. It is also rumored that Apple will launch its own. The Facebook model can well be understood as a first generation to try to accustom the public to people having a camera in front of them constantly. A camera that, even if it is not used all the time, will serve to remind us how easy it is today to record what surrounds us.

In 2013, a group of 37 Data Protection authorities sent a joint letter to Google urging the company to report on the implications of its product.

Regarding Google Glass, the AEPD responded that it would “a product follow-up to verify that it complies with Spanish data protection regulations “, once again recalling the Data Protection regulations and consent. From Xataka we have once again consulted with the AEPD to obtain more details about their position on the Ray-Ban Stories From Facebook.

As described by Wired, it was precisely these doubts regarding the Data Protection legislation that led Google to cancel the project of its glasses. Now Facebook strikes again with a new approach; technologically simpler, but who knows if it is more likely to spread.

These glasses are another step to try to get used to having cameras in front of us. The technology per se is covered, but Data Protection is very specific with certain uses.

At the moment the Facebook glasses have been announced for markets such as the US, Canada and Australia, but also for Ireland and Italy where the European General Data Protection Regulation applies.

Technology is ready for facial recognition in crowds, now it's up to society to have the ethical and privacy debate

These first generations of smart glasses “only” record and take photos, but it is not ruled out that in the future have advanced capabilities such as facial recognition. Faced with this assumption, the AEPD has taken a position against it, rejecting that the legitimization for video surveillance systems also covers technologies such as facial, gait or voice recognition. This is because applying these technologies would be a treatment of biometric data and therefore the Data Protection regulation would apply. Again, the use of these glasses is contemplated, but it will be necessary to analyze in detail what is done with the images and videos that are captured.

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