Jorge Marcano | The Lithuania Tribune
Recent decision adopted by Lithuania’s State Data Protection Inspectorate has the potential of isolating the country in terms of mapping technologies and international exposure. The inspectorate rejected calls by American corporation and Internet giant, Google, to allow for Lithuanians streets all over the country to be photographed and incorporated into its dynamic Street View project, a service that now covers over 30 countries.
Such controversial decision has already woken up the concern of various Lithuanian businesspeople like the CEO of the company Lithuania Tours, Kestutis Ambrazaitis who was categorical in emphasizing that “if there are no views from Lithuania in Google’s Maps Street View, this will undermine confidence in Lithuania. Before travelling to less known countries people try to find as much as possible about them online and Street View is one of the tools to do that”, highlighting the unfavourable aspect that the impediment by the inspectorate causes to the country and its businesses.
By impeding access to photographing the streets of Lithuania’s cities and towns, the nation loses a great opportunity to market itself free of charge, insist entrepreneurs like the President of the Lithuanian Hotels and Restaurants Association, Evalda Siskauskiene.
Nonetheless, the inspectorate is not closed to all possible venues and seems committed to finding a constructive solution to the impassé by declaring that it has advised Google to establish an office in Lithuania for its Street View project. Such decision would satisfy the inspectorate’s requirement in terms of data protection and would avoid the project to be hindered by legal obstacles.
The State Data Protection Inspectorate’s spokeswoman declared that “the problem is that Google should have a representative office in Lithuania, which would be responsible for that collection of personal data. They had chosen a law firm as their authorized representative, which is not quite possible in legal terms,” stating that several meetings were held with the corporation and they advised Google that establishing a representative office would be the best option for them to continue their work legally. There is no need for a protracted controversy with Google since she said that the problem was being resolved, confirming that the inspectorate plans to have a meeting with Simon Meehan, a UK-based representative from Google who is responsible for public policy and relations to foreign governments.
It is still not clear what is the company’s response to the inspectorate’s offer about the hypothetical representative office in the country.
Earlier in the month, the prestigious law firm, Borenius, officially submitted documentation on Google’s behalf pertaining their activities in Lithuania to the inspectorate. After evaluating their paperwork, the authority then decided that Google Inc. and the law firm working as their representative, did not comply with the data manager status established by the Legal Protection of Personal Data Act.
According to the legislation, a company established and active outside of the European Union, can only handle personal data in Lithuanian soil through a representative, whether a branch or a representative office. Google’s headquartered is officially located in Mountain View, California (USA). On this basis, the inspectorate elaborated its decision by claiming that the project might violate a person’s right to privacy, given the external handling of personal data, such as photographs of passers-by and cars.
Such stringent ruling has broadened the calls to the inspectorate to include government officials like Transport Minister, Eligijus Masiulis, who on Monday petitioned the inspectorate to review its decision on the Google’s Street View project. In an official press release, the Minister declared categorically that “Lithuania should not close itself off, like North Korea does. Many European countries, our neighbours, allow putting street views on the Internet, and the ban by our institutions to do so seems strange and overly strict. We cannot be among laggards and ignore Information Technology’s progress”.
Google Maps’ Street View service requires a special car that would take photographs to various streets of towns and cities across Lithuania in order to provide a virtual tour of the country in a panoramic fashion.
Despite the seemingly rigidity of the inspectorate, the service offered by Google has provoked legal disputes in various European countries, such as the UK, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Greece, Germany. However, in most of these cases, the project has continued operating without further disruptions, under the conditions that the faces and other privacy details will be blurred.