Google says Street View will comply with privacy laws

Google Inc.’s Street View application, which has raised privacy concerns because of the street-level images of locations it provides, will respect the local laws of the countries wherever it is available, the company’s privacy counsel said yesterday in a company blog.

Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer appears to be responding to concerns raised by Canada’s privacy commissioner about the implications of Street View.

In a recent letter to Google, Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said Street View may violate this country’s privacy law, which prohibits the commercial use of personal data without permission from the individual. Stoddart was likely making a pre-emptive strike since the application isn’t offered in Canada yet.

Currently, Street View provides users with a close look at U.S. city streets that could include identifiable images of people. Google launched Street View in May with its Canadian partner, Immersive Media Corp.

In his blog, Fleischer said when Google designed the service, it wanted to make sure it respected the privacy of individuals who might be walking on a public street at the moment Google captured an image. To do that, Google instituted a process that allowed people to contact the company if they wanted to have their images removed, he said.

“In the U.S., there’s a long and noble tradition of ‘public spaces,’ where people don’t have the same expectations of privacy as they do in their homes,” Fleischer said.

“However we’ve always said that Street View will respect local laws wherever it is available, and we recognize that other countries strike a different balance between the concept of ‘public spaces’ and individuals’ right to privacy in those public spaces.”

Fleischer said when Street View becomes available in other countries, Google will respect the laws of those countries.

“We understand that means we’ll have to ensure there aren’t identifiable faces and licence plates in some countries,” he said. “There’s an important public policy debate in every country around what privacy means in public spaces. That balance will vary from country to country, and Street View will respect it.”

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