Google Street View cleared by information watchdog

The Information Commissioner’s Office has rejected a complaint from privacy campaigners about Google’s controversial new mapping service, Street View.

Privacy International lodged the complaint over claims that a number of people are identifiable in the photos taken by Google’s camera cars, which cover millions of homes in 25 British cities.

The photographs, on which the service is based, were taken from camera-mounted cars last summer. Google photographed over 22,000 miles of streets and took millions of images.

Google has taken steps to obscure faces and car licence plates, however some individuals and cars are still clearly identifiable. It has indicated it will remove images on request.

The ICO met Google last summer to discuss how the Street View service would be implemented. It said it had received a number of complaints since the service launched in the UK last month.

ICO senior data protection manager David Evans ruled today that Google was not contravening the Data Protection Act and it was not in the public interest to “turn the digital clock back”.

“As a regulator we take a pragmatic and common sense approach. Any images of people’s faces or number plates should be blurred,” he said.

“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.

‘However, it is important to highlight that putting images of people on Google Street View is very unlikely to formally breach the Data Protection Act. 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. In the same way there is no law against anyone taking pictures of people in the street as long as the person using the camera is not harassing people.

“In a world where many people tweet, facebook and blog it is important to take a common sense approach towards Street View and the relatively limited privacy intrusion it may cause.’

When the service launched, users encountered an image of a man walking out of a sex shop and another being sick outside a pub. Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher was photographed drinking in a pub.

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