Bern, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – A Swiss court Monday 4 April backed “partially”, according to the court’s statement, the arguments of Switzerland’s Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner Hanspeter Thuer, in ruling that Google must obscure faces and license plates for use on Street View.
“According to the judgment of the [federal administrative court], the defendants must make all faces and number plates unrecognizable before the pictures can be published on the Internet,” the statement says. “In the vicinity of sensitive facilities, the anonymity of individuals must be ensured. The BVGer concludes that the interest of the public in having a visual record and the com-mercial interests of the defendants in no way outweigh the rights over one’s own image, as the pictures can be made more or totally unrecognisable, and this is a proportionate measure. The judgment may be appealed against to the Swiss Supreme Federal Court.”
The court says the case pits commercial rights against “the right to have the private domain respected and the rights of the individuals in question over their own image”.
Google reacted quickly, saying it is disappointed in the verdict.
“We have received the court’s verdict and are currently assessing its implications. We are very disappointed because Street View has proved to be very useful to millions of people as well as businesses and tourist organizations. More than one in four of the Swiss population has used it since the service launched in Switzerland. We’ll now take some time to consider what this means for Street View in Switzerland and our appeal options.”
The court pointed out that it is not forbidding Street View, but it suggested Google may have to review the cost of additional obscuring of any faces and number plates, and that in the end consumers may find the cost is passed on to them.
The court decision, based on the idea that permission must be granted before any face is shown on the Internet, raises serious questions for other Internet media producers, including news organizations.
The court commented, in its ruling, that:
“it must not be forgot-ten that what is at stake here is ultimately not a blanket prohibition of Google Street View but
merely the publication on the Internet of images of individuals only where they have been made unrecognizable or, as the case may be, only where the consent of the individuals in question has been obtained.
“The defendants are chiefly asserting their own commercial interest in the operation of Google Street View, in particular the interest in expanding their position in the area of online map applications and in entering new markets with applications such as navigation systems. Linked to this is the sale of advertising space. Where the defendants are referring to the interest of numerous private individuals, firms, and public entities in the free use of its online service, this use is also in its own financial interest.
“The claimants are discounting any breach of privacy rights of numerous individuals, in the interest of their commercial success. All privacy breaches could be avoided, but this would entail ad-ditional costs for the defendants, as they would have to make images (even more) unrecognis-able in part manually.
The additional costs would obviously not, however, jeopardise the commercial survival of the defendants. In addition, passing on the cost to the users of Google Street View would not be out of the question. The avoidance of additional costs and the free-of-charge and thus commercially attractive offering of Google Street View are, in principle, to be recognized as profit-oriented interests of the defendants and cannot outweigh the interests of the individuals in question.
Background, Google Street View, opening of the trial in 24 February 2011 and