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'Let Google Earth be a security tool'

Is the hue and cry by Govts over the satellite images of sensitive sites warranted? CR Jayachandran probes.

tech reviews Updated: Jan 25, 2006 12:50 IST

If Google Earth's high-resolution satellite imagery has created a flutter in India, there could be reasons for more concern, as there exists several other virtual globes which are built to fetch and display these images.

One wonders why India is heckling just the Google Earth, while more and more high-resolution satellite imagery and aerial photography are accessible for free in the public domain.

As Debbie Frost, International PR Manager, Google points out, "Google Earth is built from information that is already available from a wide range of both commercial and public sources, and is no different in concept from the many other Internet-based imaging and mapping services that have been available for years. The same information is available to anyone who flies above or drives by a piece of property."

Frost enumerates a list to HindustanTimes.com of several other Internet-based services which provide satellite and aerial mapping images, including governmental, commercial, and non-commercial services, viz,EarthSat,Microsoft Terraserver,GlobeXplorer, Digital Globe,National Geographic MapMachineand many others.

 

 Images from Digital Globe (left) and Google Earth

Experts' view

As an alarmed India analyses the possibility of terrorists misusing detailed display of 'sensitive sites' laid bare by Google Earth, experts suggest that security establishments instead of worrying should make satellite imagery as an important tool to make security decisions.

Google observes that any facility, visible from an airplane, must assume that overhead images of it are globally available, and must develop its security plans accordingly.

Andrew McLaughlin, Senior Policy Counsel, Google Inc, told HindustanTimes.com that all of the imagery used in Google Earth and Google Maps were commercially available.

"Indeed, much of that commercially available imagery comes from governmental sources, and much of it is available for free or low cost over the Internet," he says.

Discounting Indian concerns of these high-resolution images falling into the hands of insurgents, McLaughlin says, "Our experience is that experts do not find those suggestions well-justified, due to the fact that Google Earth images are more than six months old; are widely available publicly from other sources; provide tremendous benefits to society, due to their uses in education, commerce, disaster response and recovery, and so forth.

"Taking all factors into account, these do not meaningfully increase security risks for sensitive sites and facilities," he says.

Lt Gen Malhotra, who is part of the TIFAC, an autonomous organisation under Department of Science and Technology, told HindustanTimes.com that technology could not be stopped but cared for.