Swiss data protection watchdog takes Google to court

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Switzerland's data protection commissioner on Friday announced that he was taking Google to court in a dispute over privacy concerns on the US Internet giant's "Street View" picture map.

Geneva--Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner Hanspeter Thuer said in a statement that he was taking the case to the Federal Administrative Tribunal after Google refused to apply the majority of measures he had recommended.

Street View allows users to take a ground level panoramic view of some locations on Google Maps, based on still photographs taken by specially-equipped vehicles.

The Swiss data protection commissioner had repeatedly complained since the service was introduced for Switzerland this year that many images of faces and vehicle number plates were still easily identifiable and insufficiently blurred.

Thuer also said recommendations he had made to Google had not been taken up.

"For these reasons, the FDPIC (commissioner) has decided to take the matter further and to take legal action before the Federal Administrative Court."

Google said that it was disappointed by the decision and remains convinced that its service is legal.

"We will vigorously fight any procedure. Street View has proved to be very popular in Switzerland and users will be harmed by this decision," said Google Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer in a statement.

Thuer said Friday that his privacy concerns were especially strong where the people concerned were shown around "sensitive locations, for example outside hospitals, prisons or schools."

Simple blurring of faces was also not enough to conceal identities in less frequented areas outside urban centres, he added.

Thuer raised concerns about the height of the car-top cameras Google uses to film locations, saying they afford a view over fences, hedges and walls "with the result that people see more on Street View than can been seen by a normal passer-by in the street."

"This means that privacy in enclosed areas (gardens, yards) is no longer guaranteed."

The data protection commissioner had issued recommendations in September, after initially asking Google to withdraw the service while changes were made.

"In its written response on 14 October 2009, Google for the most part declined to comply with the requests," the statement said.

Google has insisted on the efficiency of its blurring technology.

"We are very disappointed to learn that the Federal Data Protection Commissioner wanted to take the case before the courts," Fleischer said.

"We believe that it's not necessary and that Street View is totally legal," he added.

Fleischer underlined that Google discussed Street View with Thuer before and after it was introduced on maps of Switzerland and had proposed measures to "reinforce protection technology" for privacy.

He said the decision to got to court suggested that Thuer was not ready to consider those proposals.

AFP/ Expatica

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