The following article by Krista Kapralos first appeared in GlobalPost.
FRANKFURT, Germany — It wasn’t too long ago that apartment dwellers in Germany assumed that someone, somewhere in the building, was taking notes on everything they did. Even people who owned their own homes could never be certain whether a government mole was listening in on their conversations.
“Making sure the law was kept,” said Jobst Krause, a 67-year-old Frankfurter, of the surveillance during the Nazi era.
Krause is too young to have experienced the worst of Nazi surveillance, and he lived in West Germany when the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police force, kept tabs on citizens. But he understands the pang of worry that shot through the hearts of many Germans last week when Google, the American search engine giant, announced that it would launch its Street View application in Germany before year’s end.
Google began sending camera-equipped cars throughout Germany’s 20 largest cities in 2008. Once launched, the Street View program will offer panoramic, ground-level photographs of most streets in those cities, allowing Web surfers to virtually tour those cities as if they were walking or driving.
The program was launched in the U.S. in 2007, and has since spread through 23 countries. But Google found fierce resistance in Germany, where strict privacy laws and suspicion about the company’s reasons for widespread data collection have led to a handful of investigations.