India plans to discuss security concerns over Google Earth

India plans to discuss security concerns over Google Earth

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New Delhi, India, 2 October 2006: A click on Google Earth is all that is needed to access images of sensitive locations. To counter the risk posed by high-resolution satellite images on the Net, the Government of India has decided to ask the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the scientific community to raise concerns with counterparts abroad, particularly in the US, on the risk factor – the probability of terrorists using the images.

Sources said that at a high-level meeting convened by Cabinet Secretary B. K. Chaturvedi in September, it was proposed that the MEA should raise the issue with the US at a bilateral level. The MEA will discuss the security concerns at an official level while a delegation led by the Information Technology Ministry will hold meetings with the companies concerned. Chaturvedi confirmed the meeting but did not want to elaborate on the decisions.

An official said the government’s scientific departments had been asked to raise the issue at multilateral meetings and seek an international protocol that will take care of the security concerns. New Delhi believes that there should be an international agreement that before satellite pictures are taken over a particular country, the permission of that country has to be taken.

Indian officials have been making all efforts since last year to prohibit easy access to images of sensitive locations. In July this year Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman Mr. G Madhavan Nair had expressed concern at high-resolution satellite images offered by Google and said authorities should hold a dialogue with it over the display of imagery of some of the country’s sensitive locations. “…Some of the places, they have collected images from foreign satellites and that comes to one metre (resolution) and better. For example if you take Bangalore or Delhi, they have given fine pictures — which normally one is not supposed to do,” Mr. Nair said. He also remarked that the defence agencies should map out ways to check such display.

When asked how Google can be stopped from displaying images of sensitive locations Nair said, “We have to have a dialogue with them, convince them that in the global interest, especially in the security environment we are facing today, we should not be putting fine details on a public domain”.

The head of India’s principal mapping organization, surveyor-general of India Major-General Gopal Rao, had said in January this year that the government could ask the US headquartered company to reduce the resolution of images of sensitive locations or even blur the details. “This is something that’s technically feasible, something that Google has done for the US government,” said Rao.

But despite these, Google Earth is being used in the country. The Indian Army resolved in April this year to use high-resolution satellite photographs from the Google Earth search engine for counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast states of India.

Army sources admitted that the Google pictures may not exactly show the militant hideouts, as most of them are located deep inside forests. They, however, added that the satellite pictures would be able to pick out the green cover and the terrain clearly, enabling the forces to plan much better. They said it would be like flying over the area physically, instead of depending on two dimensional contour or relief maps.

Countries such as Australia, Korea, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Holland also have officially voiced their concerns about Google Earth. The list is growing.