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EFF lawyer is smokin' on Google Street View

Wants out, Google gives him a grilling

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Google's Street View service is barely two weeks old and it's already attracted plenty of criticism from privacy advocates.

Photographing people up close and without warning as they go about their daily routines and then publishing those images for all the world to see may tread just a teensy bit over the line, they say.

Exhibit one was the image of a woman inadvertently baring her thong while leaning to one side of a white pick up truck parked on a quiet San Francisco street. Granted, the amount of flesh is modest, but there was something downright creepy about silently witnessing such a private moment - particularly when the truck's license plate number is there for all of us to see. (Note: the image is no longer available, but move the location one notch in either direction and it's still possible to see both the license plate and a rough outline of the woman.)

Exhibit two, was a young man on the side of the highway answering nature's call, presumably oblivious that his likeness was being captured so it could later be broadcast to the world.

Google has steadfastly defended Street View, arguing that "inappropriate" images can be pulled. We haven't found that argument persuasive, given that the aforementioned images, now snipped and included on countless blogs and news sites (like ours), will forever be a part of the internet record. Removing images after they've already been published is the proverbial closing of the barn door after the horse has bolted.

Now we've found yet another compelling reason to knit our brows, this time provided by Kevin Bankston, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. By comparison his adventure with Street View is mild. An eagle-eyed reporter for Wired News spotted him in San Francisco's Mission District drawing on a cigarette as he walked to work. It was ironic, because Bankston, a critic of these types of things, was captured smoking on Amazon.com's now defunct A9 service a few years ago.

Bankston wasn't amused, so he decided to take Google up on its pledge to remove "inappropriate" street views. In response, Google, sent Bankston an email that reads like an FBI affidavit.

Among other things it requires him to furnish his legal name, email address, a clear and readable copy of his driver's license or other legal ID and a sworn statement affirming all the information in his complaint is true and correct.

"We will temporarily remove the Street View image pending receipt of your ID verification," the email states. "If we have not received a copy of your photo ID within 5 days, then we will restore the panorama back to Street View."

Says Bankston: "It's utterly insane that to get Google to stop publishing information about you, you have to give them more information." ®

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