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Google starts Street View in Europe

But privacy could be an issue

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The ICO also said Street View should be sensitive to situation-specific concerns. "We would ask those operating such technology to do so responsibly to ensure images are not captured in places requiring a certain amount of privacy – outside a school, in someone's garden, etc," it said.

The UK does not have a privacy law, but in recent years the law of confidence and the European Convention on Human Rights, translated into UK law as the Human Rights Act, have been used in the courts to try to keep certain things private.

In the UK, data protection law allows the taking of photographs in public places without the permission of people who will appear in the photo, but that does not apply for photos for commercial purposes. For those, subjects should be notified.

There is also a right to prevent the display of an image which will cause substantial distress. This can be pre-emptive, meaning that if you can identify yourself to Google and think you have been photographed by the company you can request that the photograph never be published if you can show the publication will cause you substantial distress.

Struan Robertson, editor of OUT-LAW.COM and a technology lawyer with Pinsent Masons, said data protection laws would not be an issue if individuals could not be identified.

"What Fleischer suggests is a good way of circumventing the Data Protection Act and its demand for notification, which would probably necessitate loudspeakers on the camera cars," he said. "It's hard to imagine Google cars driving around and shouting at pedestrians."

But Robertson also pointed to a recent ruling that took a dim view of privacy rights on the streets of Britain.

Children's author JK Rowling last year failed to win a case which hinged on the degree to which she and her children could expect privacy on a public street. She was photographed by agency Big Pictures walking in the street with her then 20 month old son David.

The Sunday Express used the pictures and settled with Rowling, but Big Pictures contested the case and last August succeeded in having a judge throw the case out before a full trial could take place.

"If a simple walk down the street qualifies for protection then it is difficult to see what would not," said Mr Justice Patten in the High Court.

"For most people who are not public figures in the sense of being politicians or the like, there will be virtually no aspect of their life which cannot be characterised as private. Similarly, even celebrities would be able to confine unauthorised photography to the occasions on which they were at a concert, film premiere or some similar occasion.

"I start with a strong predisposition to the view that routine acts such as the visit to the shop or the ride on the bus should not attract any reasonable expectation of privacy.

"It seems to me inevitable that the boundaries of what any individual can reasonably expect to remain confidential or private are necessarily influenced by the fact that we live in an open society with a free press. If harassment becomes an issue then it can and should be dealt with specifically."

The ruling has been appealed.

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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