Google Wants Swiss to Act Neutral on Street View

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    HANNOVER, GERMANY - MARCH 03: A German Google Street View car stands on display at the CeBIT Technology Fair on March 3, 2010 in Hannover, Germany. Google's Street View project has raised controversy from people across Europe worried about infringement of their privacy. CeBIT will be open to the public from March 2 through March 6. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

    Google asked a Swiss court Thursday to lift curbs on its Street View service that have prevented the Internet search engine from updating the popular ground-level pictures of Swiss cities for more than a year.
           
    The Mountain View-based company agreed in 2009 to temporarily stop uploading new pictures from Switzerland after a complaint from the country's data protection watchdog, which is seeking tighter restrictions on the
    service.
        
    Strict Swiss privacy laws have proved a headache for the California company as it seeks to provide comprehensive 360-degree panoramas of streets and buildings around the world.

    Lawyers for Google told the Federal Administrative Court in Bern that Street View is comparable to services offered by rivals, and personal privacy is guaranteed thanks to technology which automatically blurs faces and car plates.

    The Swiss data protection commissioner, Hanspeter Thuer, claimed otherwise.
     
    Using a live version of Street View, he demonstrated examples where the software failed to obscure faces of adults and children in public - including outside the court - and even inside private homes.
        
    ``I don't want a ban of Google Street View,'' Thuer told the court. ``But in the present form Google Street View breaches basic principles of privacy.''

    The company has faced similar concerns in many of the 27 countries where Street View is available, including the U.S. and Germany. In Israel, officials have expressed worry that Street View might be used by terrorists and instructed the company to modify the service.

    Thuer wants Google to guarantee that all faces and car plates are blurred - if necessary by checking all pictures manually.

    He also demanded that private gardens and sensitive locations such as schools, hospitals and women's shelters be obscured.

    Google lawyers countered that the company is continually improving its Street View technology and that the images are too banal, and of too poor quality, to be used to identify individuals
    whose privacy might be breached.

    Gregor Buehler, a Google attorney, said it would be prohibitively expensive for the company to manually check each picture for privacy breaches.

    The case has generated enormous interest in Switzerland. Google has one of its biggest offices outside the United States in Zurich, where hundreds of engineers develop new services for the company.
        
    About one in four Swiss have used Street View, according to Google. The company said last week that it is working to expand the service to cover the ski slopes around Switzerland's iconic
    Matterhorn mountain.

    The court is expected to deliver its verdict at a later date.