Google Refuses Police Request For Street View Image

Google’s ongoing headache over its Street View service has taken another turn after the search engine giant refused to hand over to the police unaltered images of thieves stealing a homeowner’s caravan.

Just before Christmas, Google confirmed that the last of the UK data collected by its Street View cars in the notorious ‘WiSpy’ incident last May, had been deleted.

However Google has endured months of controversy and investigations, including one from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), as well as many overseas probes.

Court Order Required

Police are asking Google for the unaltered image of a 4×4 car which they suspect was involved in the theft of a caravan in the village of Linton inm Derbyshire. But according to the Derby Telegraph, Google is standing by privacy rules and won’t hand it over without a court order.

The image the police are seeking was taken back in June 2009, and clearly shows a man standing by a 4×4 vehicle on the driveway of David Soanes and his wife Rebecca.

Their caravan was subsequently stolen and when the Google Street View images were posted online, their son Reuben saw the image of the unknown man and car. The Soanes believe the image was taken just before the caravan was stolen from their drive.

The police launched an appeal using the image in November but this drew a blank. At the same time they asked Google for the unaltered and original copy of the image, as Google routinely blurs all vehicle number plates.

However Google refused and the police are now understood to be seeking a court order.

“It does seem ridiculous that the information is available but Google is not forthcoming with it, even though it could be used to solve a crime,” said Mrs Soanes, quoted by the Derbyshire Telegraph.

Waste Of Public Money?

“The 4×4 and the man may not even be involved but at least they could then be ruled out of the investigation,” she added.

The paper also quoted South Derbyshire MP Heather Wheeler.

“I am disappointed that Google’s initial reaction is to refuse,” said Wheeler. “It would be sensible for them to enter into a protocol with British police forces to receive and acquiesce to police requests. Of course, the police can get a court order but what a waste of public money in order to do that. I would urge Google to enter into a proper and professional relationship with our police forces to assist in the detection of crime.”

“It’s very important to Google and our users that we only provide information if valid process is followed, as laid down by governments in law,” a Google spokesman was quoted as saying. “We have a team specifically trained to evaluate and respond to requests when they are received, and we will of course co-operate with police requests as long as they are legally valid and follow the correct processes.”

Guilty In South Korea

Meanwhile it has been reported that Google has been found guilty of breaching privacy laws in South Korea.

According to the Guardian newspaper, the country’s police authority said that Google had broken South Korean privacy law when its Street View cars collected emails and other personal information from the country’s homes and businesses.

Police official Jung Suk-hwa said the technology giant breached South Korean telecommunication laws with its illegal data capture.

This followed a raid on Google’s South Korean headquarters in August by police looking for evidence of illegally stored data, seizing hard drives and related documents.

In October Canadian authorities also ruled that Google’s Street View had committed a ‘serious violation’ of its privacy laws.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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