Page last updated at 13:28 GMT, Thursday, 23 April 2009 14:28 UK

All clear for Google Street View

Street View scene, Google
Images of 25 cities are viewable via Google Street View

Google's Street View technology carries a small risk of privacy invasion but should not be stopped, the UK's Information Commissioner has ruled.

The technology, which adds photos of locations to maps, sparked complaints it breaches the Data Protection Act.

A spokesman for the privacy watchdog said removing the entire service would be "disproportionate to the relatively small risk of privacy detriment".

One village in the UK prevented Google from taking photos of the streets.

Residents of Broughton, near Milton Keynes, blocked the driver of a Google Street View car, which captures the photos, when it tried to enter the village.

Police were called after residents staged the protest, accusing Google of invading their privacy and "facilitating crime".

Street View car (Google)
The Street View car takes photos for the service

The villagers said the car was intrusive and that residents should have been consulted.

Google has always said its service observed UK law and that photos were only taken from public areas. The technology was first launched, amidst some complaints, in the US in May 2007.

Privacy International had complained to the Information Commissioner along with 74 others, requesting the service be suspended, because some individual's faces were identifiable on Street View.

Face blurring

The technology does have automatic face blurring but some individuals were not obscured. Google said it would remove any image on Street View if a request came from a member of the public.

Dozens of images were removed from the UK roll out of Street View within days of the service going live. The Information Commissioner's office said Google was acting quickly to remove images.

It would not be in the public interest to 'turn the digital clock back'
David Evans, Information Commissioner's Office

A spokesman for Google said it was pleased with the Information Commissioner's decision.

"We recognise that a small minority of people may not wish their house to be included in the service which is why we have created easy to use removals tools," he added.

David Evans, the Information Commission's senior data protection practice manager, compared being captured by the service to passers-by filmed on TV news camera.

"It would not be in the public interest to 'turn the digital clock back'," he said.

"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," he said.

Relatively limited

He added: "In a world where many people Tweet, Facebook and blog, it is important to take a commonsense approach towards Street View and the relatively limited privacy intrusion it may cause."

Google should continue to routinely blur images of people's faces and car number plates, he said.

The Information Commissioner's Office said it would continue to monitor the service.

I'm not saying Street View is evil and should be taken down, but it shouldn't be up to individuals to spot breaches of privacy and get them taken down
Dr Ian Brown, Oxford Internet Institute

Dr Ian Brown, a privacy expert at the Oxford Internet Institute, said: "The phrase 'small risk of privacy detriment' betrays the slightly wrong mindset at the Information Commissioner's office as they are having to adopt a reactive approach when it's far too late to really do anything about it.

"They should have been involved much earlier, because Google could - and should - have done a much better job and the Information Commissioner needs to be involved at a much earlier stage; in other words, when it is being designed and not finished."

He added: "I'm not saying Street View is evil and should be taken down, but it shouldn't be up to individuals to spot breaches of privacy and get them taken down.

"So far, the breaches have just been embarrassing - someone being sick, someone else leaving a sex shop - but it's possible someone could find themselves being unfairly divorced because an innocent image could be interpreted wrongly."

Google claim that they have "engaged" with the Information Commissioner's office throughout the development process and say that they have created "easy to use removal tools".

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