Google tells police, you'll have to take us to court
INTERNET giant Google has reacted to a Derbyshire police plea for help in solving a crime by telling officers: you'll have to take us to court.
Cameras used to take photographs for its Street View feature captured an image of a driver and a four-wheel-drive vehicle that detectives want to trace over the theft of a family's caravan.
The picture was spotted on the internet by the family's 11-year-old son months afterwards. It shows a man and his car on the drive of their home next to their caravan.
The caravan owners, surveyor David Soanes and wife Rebecca, believe the shot was taken just before the theft from their drive at Linton.
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However, in common with Street View's usual approach, the number plate of the vehicle has been blurred out.
And when police asked Google for a copy of the original, the company refused – unless the force could get a court order. Officers are now trying to do just that.
Exam invigilator Mrs Soanes said she thought the situation was crazy.
She said: "It does seem ridiculous that the information is available but Google is not forthcoming with it, even though it could be used to solve a crime.
"The 4x4 and the man may not even be involved but at least they could then be ruled out of the investigation."
Yesterday, a police spokeswoman said: "Google said the force would have to obtain a court production order before it could release the image and we are still in negotiations about this."
South Derbyshire MP Heather Wheeler said: "I am disappointed that Google's initial reaction is to refuse.
"It would be sensible for them to enter into a protocol with British police forces to receive and acquiesce to police requests. Of course, the police can get a court order but what a waste of public money in order to do that.
"I would urge Google to enter into a proper and professional relationship with our police forces to assist in the detection of crime."
A Google spoekman said: "It's very important to Google and our users that we only provide information if valid process is followed, as laid down by governments in law. We have a team specifically trained to evaluate and respond to requests when they are received, and we will of course co-operate with police requests as long as they are legally valid and follow the correct processes."
The Information Commissioner's Office said it could not comment on individual cases but a spokeswoman added that the Data Protection Act did not prohibit a company passing on information if it related to the investigation of a crime.
Mr and Mrs Soanes believe the Street View picture was taken at about the time of the theft because a neighbour told them afterwards that they had seen a man and a 4x4 on the drive, but thought he was a family friend.
Their Abbey Adventura caravan was taken from their driveway in Cauldwell Road in June 2009. Efforts to catch the thief were unsuccessful and the trail went cold until March when the couple's son, Reuben, stumbled across the picture.
The picture had been taken by one of Google's specially adapted cars that travel the world taking pictures. These are then uploaded to the internet, allowing users to see panoramic views of streets.
In November, police released the Street View image of the man and the vehicle but they have been unable to trace him. At the same time, they asked Google for a copy of the image with the registration plate visible.