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    Financial Times (UK): Swiss act on Google Street View pictures

    The Financial Times reports that Hanspeter Thuer, the data protection commissioner in Switzerland, is suing Google over its Street View photographs. (Some history: The Los Angeles Times, among others, previously reported on public opposition to Street View in Europe.)

    Hanspeter Thuer, the federal data protection and information commissioner, said Google had not done enough to make faces and vehicle number plates unrecognisable on the service, which provides panoramic, street-level photos.

    He has filed a motion seeking to freeze any expansion of Google’s activities under a temporary injunction. This would prevent Google from taking any further photography but would not require it to shut down the service entirely.

    It is the first time that Google has faced a lawsuit from a government agency over Street View. Privacy regulators in a number of countries, including Italy, Germany and Japan, have raised concerns about the service but Google has been able to negotiate measures that have reassured them. […]

    Google met Swiss data protection authorities in the run-up to launching Street View in Switzerland in September and was initially given the green light. But Mr Thuer later became critical of the service, saying Google had failed to impose promised measures to improve privacy.

    In a press release, Thuer said that Google gave his office incomplete information. “For example, Google announced that it would primarily be filming urban centres, but then put comprehensive images of numerous towns and cities on the Internet. In outlying districts, where there are far fewer people on the streets, the simple blurring of faces is no longer sufficient to conceal identities.”

    Also, “The height from which the camera on top of the Google vehicle films is also problematic, as was criticised in the recommendation. It provides a view over fences, hedges and walls, with the result that people see more on Street View than can been seen by a normal passerby in the street. This means that privacy in enclosed areas (gardens, yards) is no longer guaranteed,” Thuer said.

    In a post on Google’s European Public Policy blog, Global Privacy Council Peter Fleischer responded to the lawsuit. He noted that Google had spoken with Thuer before and after the launch of Street View in Switzerland to discuss possible problems and asserted that Google had made several privacy-protective changes for Switzerland.

    We are confident that the measures we have put in place are delivering improvements in both license plate and face blurring. And, as always, people who spot an image we might have missed can use the “report a problem” tool to let us know. These requests are dealt with quickly, usually within hours. Questions of data protection and privacy must be taken seriously, which is why we’ve put great effort into building sophisticated, easy to use tools for users. We believe that Street View offers a comprehensive set of protections for user privacy, and we continue to work on improving these tools. We are disappointed that Herr Thuer has changed his position on Street View after launch, and that he has not considered sufficient our proposals for improvements to the product.

    A PDF copy of Thuer’s filing, only available in German, is here.

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