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A street view camera car in Hannover
Google's Street View is used daily by millions of EuropeansImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Picture problems

September 15, 2010

Czech data protection authorities refused Google's second attempt to resume Street View photos, however, photos that are already online will remain. Inquiries into the Google project continue in other EU states.


Czech data protection authorities said Tuesday that they have rejected Google's second application to collect personal data through its Street View service. This move halts any new efforts by Google to create new images in the Czech Republic.

However, Street View photographs taken prior to the October 2009 Czech launch of Google Street View will remain online.

The online service provides detailed street-level photographs of people and buildings. It has come under fire for both privacy concerns arising from the photographs themselves and the fact that the company had mistakenly collected data from some open wireless networks while taking photographs for Street View.

Google representatives said they disagreed with the opinion of the Czech Office for Personal Data Protection, which is also known by its Czech acronym, UOOU.

"We're disappointed with these comments as we believe Street View is legal in Czech Republic," Lena Wagner, a Google spokesperson, wrote in an e-mail to Deutsche Welle. "We have in place robust procedures to protect privacy, such as face and number plate blurring and a removals tool. We'll continue to engage in dialogue with the [data protection authority] to answer any other questions they have."

According to the Reuters news agency, Hana Stepankova, a UOOU spokeswoman, also said talks over the use of Google's data collection in the Czech Republic would continue.

"We do not have complete certainty the information is being processed according to law," Stepankova told Reuters.

Other countries still have questions about Google

A close-up of a Street View camera
Google said it will begin its Street View service in Germany by 2011Image: picture alliance/dpa

The move comes at a time when Google has been under fire around the world over its Street View service. A Google representative has been summoned to appear before a Spanish judge in Madrid early next month. There is also a pending lawsuit in the United States over potential privacy violations.

Google and German authorities agreed that Street View could launch in Germany before the end of the year. The company has allowed Germans to have themselves and their homes removed from Street View prior to publication by submitting their names and addresses to the company.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last month that she would allow her residence to be photographed. Several of her ministers said they would exclude their homes from the service.

Varying privacy demands

Privacy experts said Google's expansion, especially across Europe, has been a wake-up call for the California-based company.

"Even though the European Union has passed a data protection directive harmonizing data protection at a high level throughout the Union, the directive permits some national flexibility in implementation and interpretation," said Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger, an Austrian professor and the director of the Information and Innovation Policy Research Center at the National University of Singapore, in an e-mail to Deutsche Welle.

"It is conceivable that capturing license plates and building facades through Street View is legal in the UK, but illegal in the Czech Republic. Especially nations with a surveillance past (like Eastern and Central Europe) often have tough privacy laws. It will take a long time and much effort for Google to navigate this thicket of information privacy laws."

Meanwhile, the company is continuing to expand the service in Europe and said last month that it was sending Street View cars to Latvia.

Google's Wagner said Google remains optimistic about changing the UOOU's opinion.

"Street View has proved a popular and useful tool for consumers and businesses around the world," she wrote. "We look forward to finding a solution to bring additional imagery to people in Czech Republic."

Author: Cyrus Farivar (Reuters)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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