Unblurred Street View images provide mugging lead

Two men have been arrested in Holland after being identified on Google's photo-mapping service Street View. The men were spotted online by the victim of a mugging and informed police, who identified the men, according to news wire Associated Press.

To protect the privacy of members of the public Google automatically blurs faces and car number plates, but Dutch police asked Google for the unblurred image. Having seen the unblurred picture police were able to identify one of the men.

Google recently agreed with privacy regulators that it would delete the unblurred images after they had been used to construct the publicly-available pictures. It gave no time scale for the programme of deletion nor an indication of how long it might keep images for before deleting them.

A 14-year-old boy had said that he had been dragged from his bicycle and robbed of €165 and his mobile phone. Six months later he told police that he had just seen the location of his mugging on Street View and, by chance, the photo was taken just before the incident.

The boy claimed that he recognised himself and his attackers in the photo, which he said showed him on his bike and the two attackers.

Police made a formal request from Google for the unblurred version of the photograph and a policeman recognised one of the alleged assailants, police told the Associated Press news service.

If Google changes the way it deals with images then it will not have raw, unblurred pictures to show to police in the future.

Google last week said that in the "long term" it will comply with demands by the European Union's data protection watchdogs that original images are deleted. The demand was made by the Article 29 Working Party, a committee of the 27 member nations' privacy regulators.

"The Article 29 Working Party has asked that we set a time limit on how long we keep the unblurred copies of panoramas from Street View, in a way that appropriately balances the use of this data for legitimate purposes with the need to deal with any potential concerns from individuals who might feature incidentally on the Street View imagery," said Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel, in a blog post last week.

"We will meet their request that long term we only keep the blurred copy of Street View panoramas, and we will work with them and our engineers to determine the shortest retention period that also allows for legitimate use under EU laws," he said.