Google Street View has been a somewhat controversial tool ever since it was first introduced this time last year. But so far, only people in America have had to worry about their rights to privacy being violated. Now though, Europe is also being targeted for inclusion, and while towns in France and Italy have been added to the database with no problems, Google has hit a snag in the UK.
Us Brits have always been quite a quiet and reserved race, expect for that period of our history when we invaded everywhere and anywhere and built an empire. Luckily the USA has taken over that role now, and left us to be the guy in the wings waiting to pick up the pieces when it all goes wrong. Happy Independence Day by the way…
When Google Street View was first rolled out last June in American cities such as San Francisco and New York, people generally accepted it, and those who didn’t, asked for their faces or license plates to be removed from the pictures to ensure their privacy concerns were being met.
Over the last few months though, as the places featured on the Google Maps feature increased, and started to include lesser known towns, and areas of the country, some people have not been happy with the invasion of privacy. A couple from Pittsburgh sued Google back in April, and then the Minnesota town of North Oaks effectively banned Google from entering the private community.
Now, with Google camera cars starting to inhabit cities in the UK, including the capital London, privacy rights organisations are up in arms over the scheme, and threatening to kick up such a fuss that the plans to literally put the UK on the map are referred to the British Information Commissioner.
According to BBC News, Privacy International believes the technology breaks data protection laws. The group has sent a letter to Google asking for technical information about the system, and if a response isn’t forthcoming, the Information Commissioner will be asked to suspend the scheme until a full investigation is carried out in to the legal ramifications.
In the US, it is perfectly legal to take photos of people as long as it is on a public street, and not a private property, but the laws are different around the world are different, and it could be the case that Google’s actions are illegal in the UK. The law suggests that if the photo is to be used for commercial ends, the person’s consent has to be obtained.
The intricacies of the law seem to be confusing for anyone other than an expert in UK privacy laws, and a debate is already raging over the legality of the UK Street View initiative. If Privacy International proves to be right in its accusation, Google will either need to obtain the written consent of every person in the UK, or indefinitely shelve its plans.