U.K. privacy watchdog OK's Google Street View
Britain's privacy watchdog said on Thursday that Google's Street View carries a small risk to privacy, but not enough to warrant removing or shutting down the service.
The U.K.'s Information Commissioner Office was responding to the complaint of London-based human rights group Privacy International, which had argued the internet search company's use of high-quality images of homes and streets was a breach of privacy.
The IOC said removing the service would not be in the interest of the public in a world "where many people tweet, Facebook and blog."
Google Street View provides close-up, 360-degree views of city streets as they would be seen by someone driving along them. The images are linked to the company's Google Maps and Google Earth applications.
The application, first launched in the U.S. in May 2007, has been scrutinized by privacy advocates in countries where it has been introduced.
Google consults with privacy commissioner
Canadian privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart warned in 2007 the service might not comply with federal privacy legislation, as it included images of identifiable people that had been collected without their consent.
Google has since consulted the commissioner's office about its use in Canada and in March of 2009 informed residents of 11 Canadian cities that it would soon be driving through their neighbourhoods taking street-level pictures.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner posted a fact sheet on the practice on its website in April, in which it outlined under what circumstances the practice would be acceptable.
"We think companies that engage in this activity have to let citizens know that they are going to be photographing the streets of their city, when this will happen, why, and how they can have their image removed if they don't want it in a database," they wrote.
Google has already stated that the service has privacy features, including the automatic blurring of faces and licence plates to avoid identifying people or cars and an easy method to request to have images removed.
Street View use in the U.K. first garnered attention after villagers in the town of Broughton surrounded and turned away a Street View car in April.
But surveillance, in particular government surveillance, has been a hot-button issue in the country in recent years.
In February, a committee of the House of Lords issued a report saying mass surveillance is undermining the public right to privacy in the United Kingdom. The report highlighted concerns about country's four million closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, its national DNA database and other "pervasive and routine" surveillance and personal data collection by the government and private sector.