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Info Commissioner contacted 74 times over Street View

Possibly all from that chap filmed peeing in the street

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Privacy regulator the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said that 74 people have written to it about Google's Street View service since its launch last month. It said it would release details of the complaints and enquiries soon.

The controversial photo-mapping of 25 UK towns and cities has prompted protests from privacy campaigners, notably Privacy International's Simon Davies. In a letter defending its backing for the service, the ICO said that the face blurring technology largely worked, and that Google had stuck to its word in removing any images on request.

The service launched on 19th March in the UK and by 30th March the ICO was able to tell Davies that it had received no complaints about any Google failure to keep its word on image removal.

"We emphasised to Google the importance of including the facility for individuals to report problem images, that such a facility should be accessible to all users and that Google act promptly on those reports," said an ICO letter to Davies. "We have not been contacted by any individuals concerned that a reported image has not been amended or removed."

An ICO spokesman has told OUT-LAW.COM that it has received "74 written complaints/enquiries since the launch of Google Street View", but the ICO was not able to break down those concerns before publication.

The ICO gave Street View the all clear last summer, based on descriptions given by Google of how software would automatically identify and blur faces and car number plates. It recently wrote to Davies of Privacy International to respond to his claims to the regulator that Street View was illegal. It stood by its initial assessment that the service was not a breach of the Data Protection Act.

ICO said that it agreed with Davies that the technology would make some mistakes and some faces would not be blurred, and that even people with blurred faces would be identifiable. This did not, though, make the service illegal, it said.

"Blurring someone’s face is not guaranteed to take that image outside the definition of personal data," said the letter, written by ICO senior data protection practice manager Dave Evans. "Even with a face completely removed, it will still be entirely likely that a person would recognise themselves or someone close to them. However, what the blurring does is greatly reduce the likelihood that lots of people would be able to identify individuals whose image has been captured."

The ICO said that the context in which it made its assessment of Street View was that it was just a collection of photos of public street scenes. The photos were of the streets, not the people, and the people simply happened to be on those streets.

"The important data protection point is that an individual’s presence in a particular image is entirely incidental to the purpose for capturing the image as a whole. In other words, there is a great deal of difference between publishing images which might enable people to identify themselves and others they know well, and the publication of images which are intended to identify that a particular person was doing a particular thing at a particular time," it said.

The ICO said in the letter that it would be "disproportionate" to force the withdrawal of the service because of relatively small privacy risk, particularly since it said it was unclear from Davies's letter how Street View actually broke the law. The letter points out that the Court of Appeal distinguished between privacy-invading photos that sought to include an individual and those that happened to include someone.

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