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Politicians plan Google Street View privacy law

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Photo: DPA
08:43 CEST+02:00
As a growing number of German politicians said they would forbid Google from showing their homes on the US internet giant's “Street View” service, the government on Thursday announced plans for a law to protect citizens' privacy on the web.

The US firm said this week it would launch Street View in 20 German cities by the end of 2010 - reigniting an intense debate about online privacy and sparking some politicians to express concerns that publishing images of people’s homes could be a security risk and even aid burglars.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right coalition stepped up pressure on Google on Thursday despite the company’s insistence that it would allow anyone to opt out of having their home shown on the program.

“After the summer break a general law must be created,” spokesperson for consumer protection issues for the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) Peter Bleser told daily Handelsblatt. “The right to informal self-determination must be protected.”

Parliamentarian Erik Schweickert, a member of the CDU’s junior coalition partners the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), also said that Germany needed a clear-cut legal definition on the issue. After the parliamentary break the coalition plans to present a law proposal, he said.

Meanwhile politicians across party lines said they would opt out of having their homes on Street View.

Parliamentary whip for the environmentalist Greens Volker Beck told daily Frankfurter Rundschau that it was unclear what other data could be tied to the images.

The German government made a mistake in 2008 when it failed to create laws to regulate the program, he said, adding that international laws were also necessary.

“Should Google store the data at its headquarters in the USA, it would be difficult to get them deleted later,” he said.

Federal Consumer Affairs Minister Ilse Aigner has already registered a protest with Google, her spokesperson told the paper. Aigner has also called for German citizens to do the same if they don’t want their homes featured on Street View.

Green party co-leader Claudia Roth said it was the “job of the state to provide data protection,” adding that private citizens should not have to comb through the internet to fight for their privacy.

Parliamentary whip for the centre-left Social Democrats Thomas Oppermann said he also planned to take Google up on its offer to opt out of having his home on Street View.

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“The Germans must be in a position to decide on their own whether their homes, apartments, gardens or cars should be made public,” he told the paper.

Google has plans to launch Street View in Berlin, Bielefeld, Bochum, Bonn, Bremen, Dortmund, Dresden, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Essen, Frankfurt am Main, Hamburg, Hannover, Köln, Leipzig, Mannheim, München, Nürnberg, Stuttgart and Wuppertal.

The program offers street-level pictures of the facades of residences and businesses, allowing users to take a virtual walk through a city without actually being there. The sequential images are taken by cameras mounted on cars that drive around the city.

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