FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section about legal developments surrounding technology and the internet.
Google's Street View panoramic photo mapping service allows users to see street level photographs of specific locations, to take virtual walks while panning, rotating and zooming through cities around the world, and to find shops, restaurants, parks, hotels and other spots in given geographic locations. Good, right?
Well, not so fast. According to a recent New York Times article, a German data protection official has just threatened Google with "unspecified sanctions" if Google does not conform its Street View service to comply with strict German privacy laws (on the supposed assumption that Google is not presently in compliance). Google and Germany reportedly are in disagreement with respect to 12
different points relating to Street View. German law is reported to
prohibit the distribution of photographs of persons or their property
without express consent.
The heart of the controversy involves photographs of houses and private
property without permission and the handling of recorded data that
later is removed from Street View subsequent to property owner
complaints, according to the article.
Data protection administrators from a number of German states
reportedly have objected to Google's Street View service. Indeed, the
article states that in the city of Kiel, residents put stickers on
their front doors last year telling Google not to film their property.
Since 2008, Google reportedly has been putting together a photographic
inventory of German streets for Street View, which has been available
in various countries, but has not yet been launched in Germany.
The article indicates that Google is willing to allow Germans the right
to opt out online of Street View filming, and they can seek to have
Street View remove images of their property that have been posted.
So, where is the privacy line when it comes to photographs of the real property?
On the one hand, a building on a street often is in public view, and
arguably is not terribly private. On the other hand, it is one thing
for a finite number of people to be able to view the building as they
might see it from the street, but it is another matter for people from
all over the world to see that building online.
Also, while "opt-out" generally is the privacy regime in the United
States (meaning that people need to opt-out affirmatively to prevent
the sharing of their private information), in Europe, opt-in is the
rule (meaning that consent must be obtained up-front before private
information can be made available). Thus, what might fly in the US,
might not go over so well in the European Union.
No matter what happens with respect to this particular dispute, there
is no question that the world is becoming a much smaller place.
Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane
Morris LLP (http://www.duanemorris.com)
where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information
technology and intellectual property disputes. His Web site is http://www.sinrodlaw.com and he can be
reached at email@example.com.
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This column is prepared and published for
purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views
in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect
the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.