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Germany

Google Street View prompts call for German data protection code

Following the debate about Google Street View in Germany, internet companies have been asked to draw up a data protection code. The interior minister made the announcement on Monday at a summit in Berlin.

A man stands in front of a screen showing a Stuttgart street

The Street View service is viewed as potentially intrusive

The German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere has asked internet companies to devise a self-regulatory code to protect web users. He made the announcement on Monday following a summit of politicians, privacy experts and industry representatives in Berlin.

The debate about Google Street View - an online service allowing users to view panoramic images at street level - has led the interior minister to call for the proposed data protection code. The guidelines will force companies to work out how to protect data which could compromise the privacy of individuals.

At the summit hosted by de Maiziere, experts discussed the general issue of geographic image data available online. Many Germans are hostile to the idea of personal information and photographic images of homes being available for everyone to access. The debate is tinged with memories of the East German secret police and the Nazi Gestapo.

The proposed code may make a law on the issue redundant

Thomas de Maiziere

The German interior minister hosted the one-day summit in Berlin

However, de Maiziere recognized that such technology can be beneficial, and said he does not want to give people the right to delete images that can be viewed by the public anyway. He does, however, want service providers to make it clearer how their privacy rights may be infringed by using particular services.

De Maiziere suggested that such self-regulation of the internet industry could "at least in part make legal provision unnecessary." However, the interior minister wants to lay down a law to draw a "red line," "which cannot be crossed under any circumstances." This will be designed to stop particularly extreme violations of privacy.

If the internet companies cannot decide on a code by December, de Maiziere said the government would immediately intervene in the matter.

The German consumer protection minister Ilse Aigner welcomed the move as "a good basis, which we can build upon, and which will allow us to take into account the interests of the users." She demanded a balance between new technological advances, which can benefit consumers, and the protection of the privacy of individuals.

The head of internet giant Google in Europe, Philipp Schindler, also greeted the suggestion with enthusiasm and agreed his company would work with others to draw up the code.

"Geo-data from the internet is becoming more important for citizens, authorities and companies, a trend which will grow further with the rise of mobile internet use," Schindler added.

Author: Joanna Impey (AFP/dpa/Reuters)
Editor: Richard Connor

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