google - AP - February 11 2011
A Google Street View car near Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Photo by AP
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Vehicles and tricycles will begin photographing a selection of major streets and sites throughout Israel, following the launch of Google Street View. The online application was launched at an event that took place on Monday by the Old City walls of Jerusalem, with Google Israel's CEO and the mayor of Jerusalem in attendance.

After a few weeks of photography, the pictures collected will be arranged and joined together over a few months, after which they will be available on the network for Street View and Google Maps surfers.

Among the Israeli sites that will be photographed are: the Old City, Mahane Yehuda Market and Ein Karem (the birthplace of St. John the Baptist) in Jeruslaem, The German Colony and Louis promenade in Haifa, the 'White City' of Tel Aviv and the old Jaffa port, the The Kineret Lake, Dead Sea, Ramon Crater, Nazareth and Acre.

At Monday's event in Jerusalem, Google announced that the first stage of photography will focus on Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa and that additional sites will be covered in due course.

Street View is a free application of Google Maps that was launched in May 2007 and is already available in about 30 countries around the world. The service allows virtual navigation in suburbs and sites – historical and other – via panoramic photographs from street height. The Street View application is also available via Google Earth and Google Maps Mobile.

Google's Street View service has been criticized sharply in several countries. Objections have been raised claiming that Street View cameras have photographed people's faces and vehicle license plates, and demands have been made for such photos to be blurred. In some places in Europe, citizens have blocked off roads, trying to stop Street View camera crews from entering. The concern in Israel was that terrorist organizations could use Street View to help them plan attacks against Israeli leaders or public figures.

Google Israel CEO Meir Brand, referring to the issue of privacy on the site said Monday, "We are only photographing public spaces that all people have access to anyway. We aren't taking photos in real time. We are blurring faces and license plates. Similarly, there will be an additional blurring mechanism, whereby if someone using the website sees something that he believes should be blurred, he can do that."

Brand was asked whether East Jerusalem and Jewish orthodox neighborhoods would also be photographed, to which he replied, "We will be sensitive to security instructions and we intend to photograph all of Jerusalem, starting with the Old City, Mahane Yehuda and then we would like to map as many territories as possible. We are a private company. We have no political agenda. We are presenting a technological service that will allow millions of surfers around the world to tour Jerusalem, Haifa and every place that our camera reaches."

Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat said at the event that, "the consideration for bringing Google Street View to Israel is to preserve religious and ritual freedom and to attract tourism. The more people are familiar with Jerusalem, the more the state of the city improves. Thus it (Jerusalem) returns to its historical role: a place of pilgrimage."

Security considerations delay introduction of Street View

In February, a ministerial task force headed by Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor was appointed to decide where Google Street View would be permitted to take photos for its service in view of security issues. The task force's other members were ministers Moshe Kahlon, Yossi Peled, Michael Eitan, Stas Misezhnikov and Limor Livnat.

In August, the Justice Ministry's Israeli Law, Information and Technology Authority announced its decision to allow Google to operate its Street View service to provide 360-degree images of Israeli streets.

The Justice Ministry asked Street View to respect users' privacy and has made its authorization of the service contingent on several conditions. In addition to demanding that users in Israel be offered an efficient, reliable way to blur images of license plates, places of residence and other objects, the ministry demanded that Google Israel heed legal proceedings in the country, meaning that any civil litigation brought by citizens against the company will be carried out in this country, despite the fact that Google's main center is in the United States.

Google has also promised not to dispute criminal claims that might be raised against Street View by arguing that the Law, Information and Technology Authority lacks standing to prosecute criminal claims against the company in Israel.

The Justice Ministry's negotiations with Google, headed by Yoram Hacohen of the Law, Information and Technology Authority, lasted three months.

Countries in Europe have applied more stringent restrictions on the Google service. For instance, Germany has asked Google to allow citizens to blur details, such as images of houses, before they are posted on the Internet.

In Switzerland, legal officials also imposed a number of demands regarding blurring procedures. The Swiss were particularly concerned about concealing the identities of people near places like hospitals and courts.