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Google Appealing To Higher Court Over Swiss Street View

May 11, 2011

Google announced on Wednesday that it would appeal to Switzerland’s highest court against a ruling ordering the company to ensure that all people and cars pictured on its Street View service are unrecognizable.

The official Swiss data protection watchdog took Google to court in November 2009 after complaining on several occasions that the service’s coverage of Switzerland flouted privacy rules.

“In the interest of Internet users and Swiss companies, Google will lodge an appeal …before the Federal Tribunal so that Street View can still be offered in Switzerland,” the company said in a statement.

Google said it might be forced to shut down the facility for Switzerland even though it was used by “half of the Swiss population.”

Google’s global privacy counsel, Peter Fleischer said in a statement: “Ninety-nine percent of people are not identifiable.”

“The decision of the Federal Administrative Tribunal requires us to guarantee that 100 percent of faces and license plate are not identifiable. We simply cannot comply with that.”

Data protection commissioner Hanspeter Thuer accused Google of refusing to apply most of his recommendations, while Google claims it must rely on an automatic blurring system for faces and vehicle registration plates.

Last month, the Federal Administration Court ruled that all faces and number plates must be made unrecognizable before they can be published on the Internet.

Google said on Wednesday that about 1,000 Swiss companies had already integrated Street View into their websites, including property agents, the post office and city councils.

“We will try our very best to preserve Street View for Swiss users,” Patrick Warnking, Google’s country manager for Switzerland, said in a statement.

“I want to say clearly and unequivocally that we take data protection seriously,” he added. “We have already taken measures to protect the identity of individuals and vehicles in Street View. And we hope that this will be appropriately recognized in the appeals process.”

The administrative court concluded in a ruling on April 4 that the public interest in having a visual record and Google’s commercial interests could not outweigh an individual’s right over their own image.

It said “the pictures can be made more or totally unrecognizable, and this is a proportionate measure.”

Google’s Street View sparked similar privacy concerns and legal battles in other countries.

France’s data privacy regulator imposed a record fine of $142,000 on Google in March for collecting privacy information while compiling photos for Street View.

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