Greek authorities ban Google Street View camera cars over fears of becoming a 'Big Brother' society
Highlighting a growing fear among Greeks of the threat posed by "creeping" new technologies, Athens's data protection agency has prohibited vehicles manned by Google's Street View drivers from the country.
The all-powerful watchdog said the search engine would have to provide "additional information" and concrete guarantees that the service was not an invasion of personal privacy before expanding the programme to Greece.
"We are not going to allow our country to become a Big Brother society," said one agency official, who asked not to be named.
Additional information would include telling the agency how long it planned to keep images taken by Street View vans and what steps it would take to alert residents of their rights if they were liable to be photographed.
Advance warnings by the drivers of camera-equipped Google cars were inadequate and not enough to fend off fears of intrusion of privacy, the authority said.
In part as a legacy of seven years of harsh military rule, Greece has draconian rules around protecting private data – edicts that for years have made it extremely hard for governments to install state-of-the-art monitoring technologies. The abolition of CCTV cameras – although a relative rarity in Greece compared with the UK and other EU states – was a major demand of protesters when violence erupted in the country last December.
Asked whether the clampdown on Google Street View was an extreme measure – given that it is legal to take photographs in public places across Greece – another watchdog official said: "Photographs are not normally made available globally, and therefore there is no risk of violation of personal data."
The Greek agency also prohibited a rival surveillance service operated by ISP Kapou, a Greek company, saying its images posed a similar threat.
Echoing a widespread view, Yannis Papadopoulos, a Greek leftist who agreed with the watchdog's precautionary stance, said: "Privacy as a concept or even word may not exist in our language but all this snooping is simply Orwellian. We won't let it pass."
Google insisted that protecting privacy was a priority for the street-mapping service it launched in the US two years ago and which is now operational in nine countries.
"Google takes privacy very seriously, and that's why we have put in place a number of features, including the blurring of faces and licence plates, to ensure that Street View will respect local norms when it launches in Greece," the company said.
A "dialogue" with the Hellenic Data Protection authority was ongoing, it said.
"We believe that launching in Greece will offer enormous benefits to both Greek users and the people elsewhere who are interested in taking a virtual tour of some of its many tourists attractions."