IP addressess 'personal,' EU official insists

IP addresses, a string of numbers that identifies a computer, should generally be regarded as personal information, the head of the European Union's group of data privacy regulators, quoted by an Associated Press report said.

The Associated Press report quoted Germany's data protection commissioner Peter Scharr, as saying that when someone was identified by an IP address 'then it has to be regarded as personal data.'

The official leads the EU group currently preparing a report on how well the privacy policies of internet search engines operated by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and others comply with existing EU privacy law, the report said.

His view differs from Google which insists that an IP address merely identifies the location of a computer, not who the individual user is, something strictly true but which does not recognize that many people regularly use the same computer terminal and IP address, the report added.

Scharr acknowledged that IP addresses may not always be personal or linked to an individual in every case.

Treating IP addresses as personal information would have implications for how search engines currently record data, the report said.

Google led the pack by being the first last year to cut the time they stored search information to 18 months. It also reduced the time limit on the cookies that collect information on how people use the internet from a default of 30 years to an automatic expiry of two years.

But a privacy advocate at the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, said it was 'absurd' for Google to claim that stripping out the last two figures from the stored IP address made the address impossible to identify by making it one of 256 possible configurations, the report further said.