WASHINGTON – Citing security risks, the Pentagon banned Google teams from making detailed street-level video maps of U.S. military bases after images of a Texas base ended up on the popular Internet site.
A message sent to all Defense Department bases and installations around the country late last week told officials not to allow the mapping Web site to take panoramic views inside the facilities.
Google said taking such pictures is against its policy and that the incident was a mistake.
Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, chief of the U.S. Northern Command, said Thursday that that the decision to issue a formal ban was made after at least one Google crew requested and then was permitted access to a base, identified in the message as Fort Sam Houston.
He said he was concerned that allowing the 360-degree, street-level view could provide sensitive information to potential adversaries and endanger base personnel.
It's a worry, Renuart said, because such views can show "where all the guards are, it shows how the barriers go up and down, it shows how to get in and out of buildings, and I think that poses a real security risk to our military installations."
Google spokesman Larry Yu said a Google crew mistakenly asked for access to a base.
"It is against our policy to request access to military bases for the purpose of capturing imagery in Street View," he said, adding that when Google was contacted, the imagery was taken off the site within about 24 hours.
Street View is a feature on Google Map pages that allows viewers to click on a location and see a panoramic view of that spot.
The issue emerged just a few days after published reports suggested that protesters used Google Earth to help plot their access to the roof of the Parliament building in London.
Renuart stressed that this was not an attack against the Internet giant, and that it was more a concern about secondary effects of an otherwise good technology.
Military officials talked to representatives at Google, Renuart said. "Google was very appreciative of us letting them know that we had a concern," he said. "They understand the security implications, and they have given us no indication that they would not be helpful to us if we asked."
According to the message sent by U.S. Northern Command to military installations around the country, Google representatives requested access to Fort Sam Houston and were granted permission.
"Once given access they took panoramic images of the area with roof-mounted recording equipment," the message said. "These images were placed on the Internet for public access."
The imagery included views of entry gates, barriers, the headquarters and other facilities.
The message ordered that military bases prohibit such photography, report any vehicles that may have surveillance capabilities and report any incidents where such access was granted.