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Lawmaker targets Google Earth to ‘thwart terrorists’

Citing reports of terrorists using Google Earth in bloody attacks in Mumbai and elsewhere, a California lawmaker wants close-in images of hospitals, schools, churches and key government installations blurred out as a security precaution.

"I don't want somebody siting in tent with a laptop halfway around the world zeroing in on targets," said Assemblyman Joel Anderson, R-El Cajon. Anderson said his legislation was prompted by reports that terrorists used Google Earth software to compile crucial data about attacks in Mumbai and in Israel. "They even picked out schools," he said. Other companies, including Microsoft, make online imagery and mapping software that could be affected by Anderson's bill.

Anderson wants to blur images of buildings at a low-level and to prevent street-level images of critical security installations that show details such as doorways, surveillance cameras, security devices and entries. Google already blurs out licenses and other information that allows personal identification.

In one five-minute demonstration in his Capitol office, Anderson used Google's program to show details of the secure areas of the U.S. Post Office in downtown San Diego, and in another Anderson viewed similar details of the U.S.-Mexico border crossing at San Ysidro.

"This is a basic security issue," he added. "Why wait to change this? If there was an attack on this country and Google software would be taken down in a heartbeat." His bill, AB 255, has its first hearing on April 20. In its current form, it would require blurring of schools, hospitals, churches and goverment buildings, although the final form has yet to be determined.

Anderson may not be alone.

Earlier this month, the Maharashtra government said it was considering "legal options to censor Google Earth and curb it from showing sensitive locations to prevent terror attacks such as what happened in Mumbai," said Home Secretary Naseem Khan, who was quoted in the March 10 edition of The Hindu.

"We want at least sensitive and ultra-sensitive locations in Mumbai, Maharashtra and the rest of the country that can be easily viewed on Google Earth," he said.

Anderson has met with representatives of Google and Microsoft, and more discussions are planned. Thus far, the companies have not discussed the legislation publicly. Anderson said one issue that has arisen during the discussions was "to make the bill as narrowly focused as possible," and he said he has agreed.

Among those most critical of bill are photographers — one Web site, http://www.nycphotorights.com — said Anderson had "declared war on photography" – and at least one scientist said it would cripple serious research.

Keith Sevcik, a mechanical engineer and researcher at Drexel University in Philadelphia, has been quoted earlier as saying the blurred images "would effectively set robotics research back 10 years — to times before realistic photos were readily available. In trying to prevent terrorism, he is actually preventing the advance of search-and-rescue technology."


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