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Street View: FDPIC takes Google to the Federal Administrative Court

Bern, 13.11.2009 - In his recommendation of 11 September 2009, the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner, Hanspeter Thür, requested Google to take various measures to protect personal privacy in its Street View online service. Google has however refused to implement the majority of the measures recommended. As a result, the FDPIC is now taking the matter to the Federal Administrative Court.

In the Street View service, which has been online since mid August 2009, numerous faces and vehicle number plates are not made sufficiently unrecognisable from the point of view of data protection, especially where the persons concerned are shown in sensitive locations, e.g. outside hospitals, prisons or schools. For these reasons, the FDPIC issued a recommendation on 11 September 2009, in which he called on Google to improve its efforts to protect personal data and privacy. In its written response on 14 October 2009, Google for the most part declined to comply with the requests.

Even the advance information that Google gave to the FDPIC was incomplete: 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. This is primarily due to the website’s zoom function, which enables the Street View user to isolate and enlarge images of individuals on the screen.

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.

For these reasons, the FDPIC has decided to take the matter further and to take legal action before the Federal Administrative Court. The full German text of the writ that has been filed may be found on the website of the FDPIC, www.derbeauftragte.ch. 

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Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner
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