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UK: Google's Street View does not breach the Data Protection Act

6 May, 2009

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: GB: Googles Street View verstößt nicht gegen das Datenschutzgesetz

In response to a complaint filed by Privacy International, the UK Data Protection Authority, Information Commissioner's Office, found Google's Street View service clear of any breach of the Data Protection Act, as revealed in a public statement on 23 April 2009.

After the service was introduced in UK on 20 March 2009, Privacy International filed a complaint against Google arguing that the company needed the consent of the communities it was photographing, before setting up Street View system. Also, on 3 April the residents of Broughton, Buckinghamshire, made a barricade to prevent the Google car from entering their village because they considered that images presented by Street View could easily be used by burglers, thus facilitating their actions.

Privacy International complained by the fact that Google had not performed safeguards to the technology to the extent promised and that the service had created numerous instances of embarrassment and distress for citizens. "We also believe that the technology has created substantial threat to a number of individuals and that the extent of intrusion into the homes of some complainants is unlawful. In such cases, Google should have acquired consent from individuals before images were captured," said the complaint.

The ICO ruled against Privacy International's action. "It is important to highlight that putting images of people on Google Street View is very unlikely to formally breach the Data Protection Act," stated David Evans, the Senior Data Protection Practice Manager of the ICO adding: "Watch the TV news any day this week and you will see people walking past reporters in the street. Some football fans' faces will be captured on Match of the Day and local news programmes this weekend - without their consent, but perfectly legally."

While acknowledging having received numerous complaints from people who have found their image on Google Street View, ICO considers however that the removal of an entire service would be "disproportionate to the relatively small risk of privacy detriment".

The ICO has expressed satisfaction for Google having put in place adequate safeguards to minimise the risks to the individuals' privacy and safety and stated it would be watching closely so that Google should continue to respond quickly to complaints and deletion requests. "As a regulator we take a pragmatic and common sense approach. Any images of people's faces or number plates should be blurred. We emphasised the importance of blurring these images to protect people's privacy and limit privacy intrusion. Google must respond quickly to deletion requests and complaints, as it is doing at the moment. We will be watching closely to make sure this continues to be achieved in practice," said Evans.

Privacy International had a very strong reaction to ICO's ruling. Its director Simon Davies declared for The Times that ICO "has entirely misrepresented Privacy International's concerns and complaint. We never sought the shutdown of Google Street View, as this ruling implies. We wanted to get Google to focus on the technological solutions and to get the commissioner to uphold the principles behind the law. Instead, he has sacrificed principles for pragmatism, an approach we believe has already been responsible for many of the privacy invasions in Britain."

Davis considers there are dysfunctions in the Commission's handling complaints and technological advice would be necessary. Therefore, Privacy International is "for the creation of a technological advice office, and for greater rigour to be applied to the ICO's relations with companies and government."

Davis also expects a different reaction from Christopher Graham, director general of the Advertising Standards Authority, who is expected to become the next UK Information Commissioner after Richard Thomas, the present ICO, retires on 30 June. "We challenge the incoming commissioner to find the courage to defend the legal principle of privacy and thus restore public trust in his office," he said.

Street View ruling angers privacy campaigners (23.04.2009)

Google wins battle with British weather to launch Street View in UK (20.03.2009)

PI files complaint about Google Street View (23.03.2009)

Privacy International slams ICO ruling on Google Street View (24.04.2009)

PI calls for review of UK privacy regulator following series of failed judgements (23.04.2009)

EDRIgram: Privacy complaints related to Google's Street View (16.07.2008)



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