Berlin court rules Street View doesn't invade privacy

Google won a civil lawsuit in Germany lodged by a woman who contended its roving camera cars that shoot photographs for Street View violated her privacy.

The woman lost her case in a regional court on Sept. 13, 2010, then an appeal was turned down by a Berlin civil court of appeal on Oct. 25, 2010, said Ulrich Wimmer, spokesman for Berlin Civil Courts, on Tuesday. Documents from the case were just published last week on the city of Berlin’s Website, Wimmer said.

The woman contended that Google’s Street View cars could possibly peer into her home and backyard, violating her privacy. She did not seek financial compensation but sought instead stop Google from taking photographs of her house.

But a three-judge panel on the court of appeal rejected those concerns, saying Street View image collection is not illegal and that Google allows people to request that images be blacked out of their properties.

The decision will not have an effect on Google’s Street View program in Germany, where the company has faced a litany of complaints and scrutiny from regulators.

Google has settled issues with Hamburg’s Data Protection Authority (DPA), which came to a 13-point agreement with the company over how it administers the program. The DPA questioned how the company retains data and how thoroughly it censors parts of images such as people’s faces.

To satisfy regulators, the company allowed people in Germany to request that their properties be blurred before the Street View service went live, the only country where Google has allowed people to object beforehand.

In other countries, people can request their homes be blurred but only after the images have appeared publicly. Shortly after launching that option, Google said it received close to 250,000 opt-outs.

Johannes Caspar, head of the DPA, said on Tuesday that his agency has no current issues with Street View, but is still awaiting the results of an ongoing criminal investigation into Google’s Wi-Fi data collection program by the Hamburg Prosecutor’s Office.

The investigation, started in May 2010, centers around whether Google broke data protection laws when its Street View cars were not only taking photographs but also picking up data transmitted on unencrypted Wi-Fi networks. That investigation continues, said Wilhelm Möllers, spokesman for the Hamburg Prosecutor’s Office, on Tuesday.

The company halted the Wi-Fi program and said it was a mistake. Google subsequently faced investigation from regulators in many countries, including the U.S., South Korea, Germany, the U.K., Spain and France.

On Monday, France’s National Commission on Computing and Liberty (CNIL) ordered Google must pay a fine of €100,000 (US$142,000) because of the Wi-Fi program.

While Google maintained that only fragmented data was collected, CNIL found it went much further: in one example, Google recorded the user name and password of someone logging into a site used to arrange sexual encounters with strangers, along with the person’s location along a sparsely populated rural road north of the town of Carcasonne, France.

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