Menu

Google Earth Worries Governments

Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam expressed concern Saturday about a free mapping program from Google Inc., warning it could help terrorists by providing satellite photos of potential targets.

Google Earth (search), an Internet-based application launched in June this year, allows users to access overlapping satellite photos. Although not all areas are highly detailed, some images are very high resolution, and some show sensitive locations in various countries.

At a meeting of top police officials in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad (search), Kalam said he worried that "developing countries, which are already in danger of terrorist attacks, have been singularly chosen" for providing high resolution images of their sites.

The governments of South Korea and Thailand and lawmakers in the Netherlands have expressed similar concerns.

South Korean newspapers said Google Earth provides images of the presidential Blue House (search) and military bases in the country, which remains technically at war with communist North Korea. The North's main nuclear facility at Yongbyon (search) is among sites in that country displayed on the service.

The Google site contains clear aerial photos of India's parliament building, the president's house and surrounding government offices in New Delhi. There are also some clear shots of Indian defense establishments.

Debbie Frost, spokewoman for Mountain View, Calif.-based Google, noted that the software uses information already available from public sources and the images displayed are about one to two years old, not shown in real time.

"Google takes governmental concerns about Google Earth and Google Maps very seriously. Google welcomes dialogue with governments, and we will be happy to talk to Indian authorities about any concerns they may have," Frost said in an e-mail statement Saturday.

Kalam, a scientist who guided India's missile program before becaming president, called for new laws to restrain dissemination of such material. He said existing laws in some countries regarding spatial observations of their territory and the United Nations' recommendations on the practice are inadequate.