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UK data watchdog gives Google spycar fleet the greenlight

Privacy campaigners mown down by Street View juggernaut

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Following a quiet word down at the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), Google has been given regulatory approval to publish photographs taken by the fleet of camera-carrying black Opels currently surveying Britain.

The ICO says it was persuaded by Google's assurances that it will blur the faces of people captured by one of the Opels. Likewise the firm has satisfied data watchdogs that number plates will be scrambled, and that anyone who complains about a Street View image can have it binned.

The ICO released this statement today:

We are satisfied that Google is putting in place adequate safeguards to avoid any risk to the privacy or safety of individuals, including the blurring of vehicle registration marks and the faces of anyone included in Streetview images.

Although it is possible that in certain limited circumstances an image may allow the identification of an individual, it is clear that Google are keen to capture images of streets and not individuals. Further there is an easy mechanism by which individuals can report an image that causes them concern to Google and request that it is removed.
Images are not 'real time' and there is a delay between taking an image and its publication so that it could not be used to make decisions about an individual's current whereabouts.

The ICO's statement makes no mention of what Google itself might do with the reams of data it is collecting.

Not everyone's concerned by Street View has had the pleasure of Google's soothing words. Privacy International, the London-based privacy pressure group was among the first to raise public concerns about the image mapping project hitting the UK, and wrote to Google with a series of questions. It has been ignored by the firm.

Privacy International spokesman Simon Davies said Street View's lack of transparency is its fundamental problem. "We've asked for details of the [blurring] technology and Google will not yield it... Google is claiming commercial secrecy, but they won't even show us how effective it is," he said. "The ICO is of course entitled to form its opinion but we'll continue to press Google."

Privacy International also asked the firm to explain if and how it consulted with the UK public on its plans, but has again been stonewalled. ®

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