Information Commissioner gives thumbs up to Google Streetview

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UK privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), has declared that Google's Streetview service won't break any privacy laws when it begins operation in the UK..

Streetview is a feature of Google Earth and Maps that provides 360 degree street-level photographic views with navigation overlays. The service was launched in the US in May 2007 and is now available for numerous US cities and in Australia, Japan, France and Italy.

Vehicles fitted with laser scanners used to collect the images have been spotted in London, Liverpool and Dundee.

Privacy lobby groups have expressed concern that the service constitutes an invasion of personal privacy: when the images are collected they include people who are in the vicinity at the time.

Indeed in April this year, Aaron and Christine Boring of Pittsburgh sued Google for US$25,000 in damages and asked the court to order Google to destroy the images that showed their house.

But the ICO says that in the course of its discussions with Google over the introduction of the service to the UK, the search giant has satisfied the Commissioner that it won't violate the rights of individuals.

Google began blurring out the faces of individuals, car registrations and the location of domestic violence shelters from May 2008 and has made provision for anyone to object to an image and have it removed.

"We are satisfied that Google is putting in place adequate safeguards to avoid any risk to the privacy or safety of individuals, including the blurring of vehicle registration marks and the faces of anyone included in Streetview images," said the ICO in a prepared statement.

"Although it is possible that in certain limited circumstances an image may allow the identification of an individual, it is clear that Google is keen to capture images of streets and not individuals."

"Further, there is an easy mechanism by which individuals can report an image that causes them concern to Google and request that it is removed.

"Images are not real time and there is a delay between taking an image and its publication so that it could not be used to make decisions about an individual's current whereabouts."

Data privacy lawyers in the UK have said that unless an individual can be identified from the images, the service does not contravene UK Data Protection Act.

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