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Switzerland court rules Google Street View constitutes breach of privacy

The Swiss Federal Administrative Court (FAC) [official website, in German] on Monday publicized its ruling that Google Street View constitutes a breach of privacy for the country's citizens and ordered Google [corporate website; JURIST news archive] to take extra steps to ensure adequate protection. The FAC officially ruled on the claim [media release] brought by the Swiss Data Protection Ombudsman and Public Domain (FDPIC) [official website] against Google on March 30. According to the judgment, before publishing any pictures on the web, Google must make all faces and license plates unrecognizable as well as ensure the anonymity of individuals in the vicinity of sensitive facilities. In making its decision to impose restrictions on Google's Street View, the FAC considered the interests of the public in having a visual record and the commercial interests of the defendants, but ultimately determined that these did not outweigh the rights an individual has over one's own image. Google now has the opportunity to appeal the decision to the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. The FDPIC originally brought the claim in November 2009.

Google has recently faced a number of allegations from the international community related to violating privacy laws by capturing personal data through Google Street View. Just last month, A Berlin high court ruled [JURIST report] that Google's Street View mapping service is legal in Germany. The case stems from a suit against Google, brought last year by a woman alleging that photos posted on Google Street View of herself, her family and the front of her house violated her property and privacy rights. The court held that, because the photos were taken from the street, Google did not violate her property rights. Furthermore, the court found no further violations because Germans can opt out of the service, and Google blurs faces and license plates in the posted images. The ruling, which cannot be appealed, was narrowly focused on property rights, ignoring larger data protection issues the company is currently confronting. Additionally in March, the French National Commission of Information Technology and Liberty (CNIL) [official website, in French] fined Google [JURIST report] 100,000 euros (USD $141,300) for violating French data privacy laws by capturing personal data through Google Street View cars, used for its Google Maps service. CNIL stated that Google was not responding to requests in a timely manner and has not stopped using the seized data. Google admitted to the collection of e-mails, passwords and other data over unsecured WiFi networks, but maintained that it was a mistake and that it did not intend to include the code which captured payload data from unsecured WiFi networks. In response to the controversy, Google grounded its Street View cars.

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