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Google Street View raises privacy concerns

Google has stirred up complaints of invasion of privacy in the UK after the release of is Street View facility on Google maps yesterday.

Users can now access 360-degree views of 25 UK cities, but Google has failed to blur out all people's faces and car registration plates, with some remaining clearly visible.

Google collected the data for the pictures last year when cars drove around UK roads collecting digital images.

The Street View facility has also raised concerns about security, as many security-related buildings, such as the headquarters of MI5 can be viewed in detail.

A privacy organisation has said Google should not be exempt from the rule requiring commercial organisations to get prior consent before using images of people.

Simon Davies of Privacy International plans to launch a legal challenge to Google's Street View service based on the need for prior consent being needed for this service.

"I think there is something of a test case in this. We are arguing that a line has to be drawn to empower the individual to make a conscious decision whether to allow his or her images on to such a system," Davies told law firm Pinsent Masons' Out-Law.Com.

Struan Robertson, technology lawyer at Pinsent Masons, said Davies's assessment of the law is flawed because there is no legal requirement that people's permission should be obtained before a photo of them is taken in a public place, even if the purpose is a commercial one.

Robertson said that if circumstances arise in which people suffer as a consequence of Street View, they can take action under the UK Data Protection Act.

Google said the blurring technology is not 100% accurate, but has the support of the Information Commissioner's Office because of the built-in removal request tool.

"Any user can easily flag images for removal that he or she considers inappropriate by clicking on "Report a concern", said Google spokesman Ed Parsons.

The ICO is satisfied that Google is putting in place adequate safeguards to minimise any risk to the privacy or safety of individuals, said an ICO spokeman.

"Individuals who have raised concerns with Google about their image being included and who do not think they have received a satisfactory response can raise that concern with the ICO," he said.

In areas where Street View is available, users can view street-level imagery by zooming into the lowest level on Google Maps, or by dragging the orange "Pegman" icon on the left-hand side of the map onto a blue highlighted street.

The feature is aimed at a variety of uses, such as viewing destinations before travelling and arranging meeting points.


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