TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Internet Satellite Imagery Under Fire Over Security

Internet Satellite Imagery Under Fire Over Security

Panarat Thepgumpanat (
Wed, 7 Sep 2005 10:23:20 -0500

By Panarat Thepgumpanat

Asian governments have expressed security concerns about easy access
to detailed satellite images on the Internet, such as those used by
rescuers in New Orleans, saying the technology could endanger
sensitive sites.

Thailand and South Korea were the most vocal critics of the search
tool on Wednesday, rounding on providers like U.S.-based Google Inc,
which runs the Web site, and demanding action
from Washington.

"We are looking for possible restrictions on these detailed pictures,
especially state buildings," the Thai Armed Forces spokesman,
Major-General Weerasak Manee-in, told Reuters. "I think pictures of
tourist attractions should do."

Satellite images provided by Google have been widely used by
broadcasters to show the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. Such
technology has also been used by authorities coordinating rescue and
relief operations in the devastated area.

Google calls the tool "a 3D interface to the planet." Any Internet
user can zoom in and out of scores of cities around the world, zeroing
in on locations right down to street level.

The Thai military will discuss the technology with telecommunications
and security agencies before approaching Google and other companies
that provide similar services, Weerasak said.

A spokeswoman for Google in Japan declined comment.

South Korean government officials have said they will contact
officials in Washington to express their security concerns about the
Google Earth product.

Among the buildings that can be seen on Google Earth, with a
high-resolution package, are the South Korean president's residence,
military bases and the defense security command. The government
restricts information about the location of these facilities and their

South Korea is technically still at war with its northern neighbor and
armed North Korean agents have tried to infiltrate the area around the
presidential Blue House.


Sri Lanka's military spokesman, Brigadier Daya Ratnayake, said it was
a serious concern if anyone could get detailed images of sensitive
installations and buildings. "But this is a new trend, we will first
have to see whether, in this day and age, if this a considerable
threat to national security."

"In this era of technology -- you have to live with the fact that
almost everything is on the Internet -- from bomb-making instructions
to assembling aircraft. So it's something the military has to learn to
live with and adapt," Ratnayake said.

A security official in India said the issue of satellite imagery had
been discussed at the highest level but the government had concluded
that "technology cannot be stopped."

"We are aware that there are Web sites which give detailed pictures of
buildings like the president's house including every tree in the
compound. Our security agencies are aware of this but how can we stop
technology?" said the official, who asked not to be named.

The Australian Department of Defense said it was taking "appropriate
measures to manage the threat" posed by such technology. It did not

But the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization
(ANSTO), which operates the nation's only nuclear reactor -- a
research facility at Lucas Heights in Sydney -- said the current
images on Google posed no security risk.

"Although buildings are clearly visible, critical infrastructure is
not. The photographs are over two years old," ANSTO has said in a

In Tokyo, an official in charge of crisis management at Japan's
Cabinet Secretariat was unaware of the service and declined further

(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Seoul, Masayuki Kitano in
Tokyo, Michelle Nichols in Canberra, Palash Kumar in New Delhi, Arjuna
Wickramasinghe in Colombo)

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.

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