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Cabinet to consider tougher Street View rules

DDP/The Local · 18 Aug 2010, 07:44

Published: 18 Aug 2010 07:44 GMT+02:00

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Politicians from the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) have raised the possibility of reversing the responsibility regarding the opt-out rules – so that a firm like Google would have to actively gather permission from residents, rather than simply giving them the chance to object.

FDP parliamentary group deputy leader Gisela Piltz told daily Bild: “I’m in favour of a consent resolution being considered in any case where sensitive data material is being compiled by Google.”

Her view was shared by FDP legal expert Christian Ahrendt, who told business daily Handelsblatt there was an “urgent need for action.”

Stephan Mayer, security expert for the Bavarian conservatives, the Christian Social Union, told Bild that Google should get the express consent particularly of older residents, rather than waiting for them to object – a process he said they might not understand.

With momentum gathering to reform the privacy laws covering so-called “geological data services” such as Google’s Street View service, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger called for a quick reform.

“The issue must not be put off,” she told daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. “The applicable data protection rights must in the end by adapted to the digital world.”

Street View is an online service by US internet giant Google that allows users to peruse street-level, panoramic pictures of major cities – a kind of “virtual tour.” The pictures are taken by cameras mounted on cars that drive around the city.

While the service is available in many other countries, it has run into firm opposition in Germany over privacy concerns, forcing Google to offer an “opt-out” system, which was launched yesterday and lets home owners and renters demand that their building be blurred out.

The cabinet is set to discuss the issue Wednesday. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière and Consumer Minister Ilse Aigner have ruled out a “Google Law” that specifically targets the US firm.

De Maizière believes the angry emotions directed towards Google over Street View are an overreaction. But he has expressed willingness to consider a universal law that would cover geological data services.

He plans to put forward proposals on September 20 in a meeting with data and consumer protection groups, along with Google and other providers of geological data services.

Greens parliamentary leader Renate Künast attacked the government for failing to act on the issue, saying De Maizière should have responded to the simmering issue long ago.

“The government has slept through the evolution of the internet,” she told Hamburger Abendblatt.

It had long been clear that Google Street View would become an issue, she said. She called on the government to adjust the laws without delay, but stressed it could not be a legislative quick-fix.

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“It is time the coalition strengthened people’s rights to information self-determination with a change to the data protection laws.”

Consumer Minister Aigner, meanwhile, hit back at critics who said she’d neglected the issue.

She said she had led many discussions between Google and consumer groups and had kept the issue among her priorities.

“As a result, we have implemented tougher opt-out regulations than any other country where there is Street View,” she told the Passauer Neue Presse

Google plans to put Street View online for 20 major German cities by the end of the year.

DDP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

08:47 August 18, 2010 by claudegaveau
They do not make it easy to opt out. I can imagine most old people or less tech savvy people will not do it. I don't like the fact that you must send them your address and wait for a letter in the post to opt out.

08:58 August 18, 2010 by wood artist
I can't speak to German laws in general, but in the US this idea would instantly self-destruct.

First, what happens when people move? The current resident says it's okay, then a new resident moves in and says it isn't. Are they expecting Google to track every person who moves and ask them?

What about a picture that picks up a house some distance down the road? Do they have to clear every possible image, even if it's just a gray smear in the distance?

What about flats? Does one resident in the building have the right to wipe the building off the picture for everyone else? What if everyone except one doesn't care?

Lastly, at least in the US, this "law" would have to apply to everyone, not just Google. That means if I wanted to take a picture of something, I would have to get permission from anyone who happened to live within the frame of the picture. That's not going to happen.

In short, I still fail to understand this fear. I didn't live in Germany during the Nazi regime or the rule of the Stasi, but I just don't understand this. What Google can picture is public. They can't see past the front door, and they blur faces and license plates. Can somebody explain just what is the danger in this?

09:53 August 18, 2010 by ovbg
@claudegaveau, I can't agree with you there. The opt-out option is more than sufficient for the average person. If someone is so far behind in basic technology that they can't access the website, they can always ask their grandkids, family or other friends to do it on their behalf.

Sorry, but one can only hold everyone's hand so much. It's like saying the post office down the road is too hard for bed ridden elderly people to visit, so a post office should be installed in every elderly persons bedroom.

We are not talking about something serious here, but someone's unjustified paranoia. Basically, if someone has a problem with a low resolution, outdated photo of the front of their property taken from public spaces where anyone can walk past, then they are the ones with issues. To force permission first to take photos from a public place would be a serious step down a draconian path, and this right should be protected first.

Secondly, I don't see you complaining about the already existing German version of Streetview "Sightwalk", which from what I can see, does not even offer an opt-out claus or if it does, it's pretty well hidden. Why do have no problems with the existing version, but you do have problems with Streetview? Do you also want people to request permission from every property when they take photos of their own? Afterall, so many of these are tagged and end up on the internet for the whole world to see.
10:33 August 18, 2010 by Clapoti
With a quarter of Germans above 14 years old not using and not planning on using Internet, how are they expecting everybody to understand what Google wants from them and what the whole debate is about? I guess they will be an easy crowd for the politicians to manipulate.

11:24 August 18, 2010 by twisted
I have no idea how this would affect them financially, but Google ought to just block Google Earth for all German users and the problem is solved. Germans with their head in the sand will have the privacy they want and Google gets releaved of all the bureaucratic nonsense that the politicians keep dreaming up.
11:44 August 18, 2010 by Clapoti
I wouldn't be surprise if at one point they just say "F*** off" and just give up the idea of offering StreetView in Germany. How serious is it to send letters to 82 million persons to ask if they want their house on StreetView. And then like wood artist mentionned... what if you move, what happens...
14:34 August 18, 2010 by catjones
Pure and simple anti-Americanism.
16:19 August 18, 2010 by biker hotel harz
This is complete and utter bulls'it! I walked passed my neighbours house this morning and looked into their garden. What's the difference?
13:03 August 20, 2010 by Prufrock2010
I agree with Twisted, and then some. If the German government wants to live in the 19th century and impose absurd restrictions on Google ("go all China," as Connor says), then Google should simply cut off all services to all German IP addresses, including Google Earth and all search functions. This is a ridiculous dispute ginned up by Luddite bureaucrats who have nothing better to do on the taxpayers' euro.
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