Services like Google Earth are viewed by many to be nothing more than an interesting curiosity. However, for the U.S. military and other world governments the satellite images and other footage Google offers on its Earth service represents a big security risk.
BBC News reports that the Pentagon has banned Google from filming inside and making detailed studies of U.S. military bases. The ban comes after detailed footage from inside and outside of the U.S. military base at Fort Sam Houston in Texas turned on up Google Earth’s Street View service.
Street View is a service of Google Earth that allows users of the application to travel down streets from the perspective of a car driver. The problem the Pentagon had with these images was that they were shot with great detail and were found to represent a significant security risk.
The defense department said in a statement quoted by BBC News, “Images include 360-degree views of the covered area to include access control points, barriers, headquarters, facilities and community areas.” The fear is that terrorists could use the detailed images to develop plans to attack the base.
Larry Yu, a Google spokesman, told BBC News that the decision to enter the US military base had been a “mistake.” Yu further said, “[it is] not our policy to request access to military installations, but in this instance the operator of the vehicle with the camera on top - which is how we go about capturing imagery for Street-View - requested permission to access a military installation, was given access, and after learning of the incident we quickly removed the imagery".
The U.S. military isn’t the only military force that has had problems with images shown on Google Earth. DailyTech reported in July of 2007 that satellite imagery form Google Earth had shown a new Chinese ballistic missile sub in dock. Indian officials became irate when images of its new Sukhoi 30 MK1 aircraft turned up on Google Earth as well.
A U.S. spy agency stated in May of 2007 that curbs needed to be placed on satellite images made available to the public.