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Czech Republic bans Google 'Street View'

/ Source: msnbc.com news services

The Czech Republic's privacy watchdog says Google has not been granted permission to expand its mapping feature "Street View" because it invades peoples' privacy.

The Office for Personal Data Protection last week refused Google Inc. the necessary registration for "Street View" in the eastern European country but did not explain why. Google then considered it a temporary decision.

Office head Igor Nemec says Google uses means that "disproportionately invade citizens' privacy." Nemec said Wednesday that Google also does not have a proper legal representative on Czech territory to handle personal data.

The U.S. Internet giant has come under fire from authorities across Europe over privacy concerns, most recently for vacuuming up fragments of people's online activities sent over public Wi-Fi networks for years while taking shots of city streets.

Criticism in GermanyWith calls for regulation intensifying, officials in Germany met Internet firms on Monday to try to reconcile the country's strict data protection rules with programs like "Street View."

Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner, who has clashed with social networking site Facebook over its handling of user data, told a newspaper she expected tougher legislation to rein in some ambitions of Google, the world's No. 1 search engine.

"We must legally regulate the collection and use of geographic image data," she told Tagesspiegel daily, adding that she felt companies could not be left to regulate themselves.

That echoed the view of hundreds of thousands of Germans who have requested that their homes be kept out of Google's service, which uses fleets of cars equipped with cameras to take panoramic pictures of cities for its online atlas.

The German government has been critical of Street View and said it will scrutinize Google's promise to respect privacy requests by letting people stay out of the project. Germans have until October 15 to apply for an opt-out.

However, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, host of the meeting which Google attended, gave a brighter outlook for the company's chances of continuing the project, saying an outright ban of the recordings should not be expected.

Helpful tool or means for abuse?Launched in 2007, "Street View" allows users to see street scenes on Google Maps and take virtual "walks."

In Germany, where the debate on surveillance is tinged with memories of the role played by the Nazis' Gestapo and the East German Stasi secret police, doubts have been raised about the transparency of the project, which Google calls a helpful tool.

Critics say it invites abuse. They argue that thieves could use it to identify targets, security firms could use it to pitch sales, job seekers might find their homes scrutinized by employers and banks could inspect the homes of loan applicants.