Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Gov't panel finds Google Street View service consistent with law"

An update about Street View from today's Japan Today:

An advisory panel of the communications ministry on Monday determined that Google’s Street View service would be consistent with Japan’s personal information protection law if the search engine firm takes appropriate measures such as blurring identifiable images, such as faces, ministry officials said.

The pronouncement marks the first time that the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has expressed an opinion on the legality of the Google service, which provides close-up, 360-degree color views of city streets, as they were caught by Google’s Street View cameras installed on vehicles driving along the roads.

It amounted to turning down requests by dozens of city assemblies across the nation—including Tokyo’s Machida city assembly and Nara Prefecture’s Ikoma city assembly—which adopted resolutions calling on the government to place curbs on the service.

The ministry will release its final conclusion possibly in August after soliciting views from citizens, they said.

The advisory panel, whose members met the same day, said even if the exterior appearances of personal homes and license plates of automobiles are caught by the cameras, they alone "would not enable viewers to identify" the owners of the homes and vehicles.

Therefore, the imagery of such homes and number plates ‘‘does not constitute personal information,’’ it said.

"Most of the service would not be illegal as long as appropriate measures such as blurring (of identifiable images such as faces) are taken," it said, responding to allegations that the service would often give rise to breaches of privacy and portrait rights.

It would be desirable for Google to respond to citizens’ complaints on a case-by-case basis, rather than having the government prohibit the service wholesale, it said.

The ministry said it will continue to monitor how Google pays attention to the necessity of protecting citizens’ privacy and whether it will comply with requests to remove problematic imagery.

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