A privacy watchdog has banned the internet giant Google from gathering images in Greece for its Street View service until it provides additional privacy guarantees.
Greece's Data Protection Authority, or DPA, took the decision despite receiving assurances from Google that it would blur faces and vehicle license plates when displaying the images online, and respond readily to removal requests.
Street View provides 360-degree panoramic images of urban areas that the user can manipulate, as part of Google's internet mapping products.
The Data Protection Authority, in a decision announced on Monday, said it wanted clarification from Google on how it would store and process the original images and safeguard them from privacy abuses.
It also sought clarification on how Google planned to inform the public that its vehicles with mounted cameras are being used to take photographs.
"Simply marking the car is not considered an adequate form of notification," a statement from the authority said. "The authority has reserved judgement on the legality of the service pending the submission of additional information, and until that time will not allow (Google) to start gathering photographs."
Google spokeswoman Elaine Filadelfo said the company would be happy to provide further clarification to the authority, and added that the service in Greece would help tourists.
Holidaymakers in Athens frequently visit the Acropolis and the city's other ancient sites.
"Google takes privacy very seriously, and that's why we have put in place a number of features, including the blurring of faces and license plates, to ensure that Street View will respect local norms when it launches in Greece," Filadelfo said.
"We believe that launching Street View 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 tourist attractions."
Since it was launched in 2007, Street View has expanded to more than 100 cities worldwide. But it has drawn complaints from individuals and institutions that have been photographed, including the Pentagon, which barred Google last year from photographing US military bases for Street View.
In Europe, Google visitors can already take a virtual tour of landmarks like the Colosseum in Rome and the Eiffel Tour in Paris.
Greece has strict privacy laws, giving the Data Protection Authority broad powers of enforcement.
The authority has repeatedly ruled against Greece's conservative government, banning the use of street cameras to fight crime. The cameras were set up as part of elaborate security preparations for the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
It also clashed with the Greek Orthodox Church when it ruled that recording Greek citizens' religion on state ID cards was illegal.
The authority also ordered a Greek mapping site, www.kapou.gr, to suspend its service until it provides further privacy clarifications and blurs faces in its online images.
The Greek site said yesterday it had stopped posting photographs while it was upgrading its service.Reuse content