Google Street View and the Privacy Law in Europe

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Kala Louise Sabado Viñas
Damien Finnegan
Academic Writing and Rethoric I
March 14, 2013

Google Street View and the Privacy Law in Europe
The Google Street View technology has been highly controversial since its continuous expansion to other European countries that have far stricter laws than its country of origin, the United States. According to the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information in Germany (Düsseldorfer Kreis 2008) geospatial data showing faces of people and license plate, like Google Street View, could be regarded as problematic since it conveys a lot of information on personal affairs such as personal habits, preferences and circumstances of living. Google Street View is particularly criticized for having a “privileged view” on the object; according to Privacy International (2009), an international privacy organisation defending people’s right to privacy around the world, Google takes pictures at the height of 2.5m and not at an ordinary eye level, thus allowing a person to look inside an estate or home. However, data protection officials argue that if the image is obscured or only presented in an abstract manner, an individual’s right to privacy is not violated (Düsseldorfer Kreis 2008). In opposition Düsseldorfers Kreis (2008) argument, I contend that Google Street View infringe on an individual’s privacy because it lacks consent from individuals who partake in the images, the software that Google Street View uses to spot and blur human faces and vehicle number plates is flawed, and there is no specified period of time the images are stored and its accessibility.

First and foremost, Google Street View does not ask for permission from every individual who happens to be pictured on the street. In February, 2010, Alex Turk, the head of the EU Data Protection Agency informed Google that it must give advance notice of where it intends to photograph on their website and local media (Segall, 16) . Furthermore, the Data Protection Act (1998) requires companies to notify people when collecting their personal data, in most cases notification would suffice and consent is not needed. This means that taking one’s picture for a commercial use would require notification of who is taking the photo and why. However, the on-going debate of whether or not taking a photograph of a street, in which people happen to pass by, can be considered processing their personal data has not been resolved. There is also the question of how to best notify the public about where Google intends to photograph. Google posted notifications on their webpage stating where and when they would photograph but in order to abide the law, the company should find a more suitable way for their notifications to reach each and every individual in order for them to be aware that their pictures might be taken even without having the need to check the company’s website.

Secondly, Google Street View uses flawed automatic image processing software that detects people’s faces and vehicle plate numbers to blur or obscure these components (Siemoneit et al.). The head of the Swiss Data Protection Agency (DPA) found that Google’s blurring technology was insufficient across Switzerland; numerous faces and vehicle registration plates were inadequately blurred especially outside sensitive locations such as schools, hospitals or prisons (Segall, 18). Furthermore, obscuring the face of a person is not enough; many other individual characteristics like clothing, body shape, height or posture remain clear and identifiable. Google countered that Street View is legal and that new technology to allow for greater blurring of images will be implemented as soon as possible. This however does not solve the problem of still being identifiable through body shape, height or clothing. A way to avoid people being identified on Street View is if the company replaces all images of real people with computer generated ones or if they completely remove...
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