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German Court OKs Google Street View Imagery In “Landmark Decision”
German publication Deutsche Welle is reporting that a Berlin court has vindicated Google Street View operation in Germany. In late 2010 Street View went live in Oberstaufen, a small town in Bavaria. Subsequently it was rolled out in 20 major cities throughout Germany.
Around the same time a German woman sued Google claiming that Street View images of her house violated her property and privacy rights.
The court disagreed. According to Deutsche Welle the court found that photography from the street is legal in Germany and not a violation of property rights:
The court ruled that it is legal to take photographs from street level, rejecting her argument that Google was trying to take unauthorized pictures. Part of her argument rested on the fact that Google used cameras mounted at three meters (9.84 feet) high, which could see over her two-meter-high hedge.
However, the court did not find this argument convincing, given that the photographs were taken from the street, and not the sidewalk. Furthermore, because Google automatically blurs faces and license plates and did allow Germans to opt-out of the service to have their house obfuscated as well, the court did not find any potential violations.
The case cannot be further appealed. However according to German legal experts the basis for decision was property rights and not privacy law. Thomas Hören, a law professor at the University of Münster, told Deutsche Welle the decision was not about personal data protection:
“The problem of Google Street View – to be honest – has never been a problem of personality rights or property rights, but the enormous risk of personal data compilations in cases where people use Google Street View for compiling personal profiles (such as building insurance companies; future employees, et cetera),” he added. “And this risk has not been considered by the Berlin courts.”
One legal cloud over Street View (property law) has cleared. However this decision does not entirely give comfort to Google because German experts suggest that Google may be vulnerable to individual privacy related lawsuits in the future.