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1/17/2007
07:36 PM
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Terrorists Tap Info On Google Earth

British Army intelligence sources suspect the mapping software is being used in some rogue attacks.

Terrorists in Basra, Iraq, have turned Google Earth into a tool for targeting attacks, according to The Daily Telegraph, a U.K. newspaper.

Citing unnamed British Army intelligence sources, the Telegraph said that documents recovered from the homes of insurgents included print-outs of Google Earth images with notations detailing the longitude and latitude of a British military camp.

The article quotes the unidentified intelligence officer as saying, "We believe they use Google Earth to identify the most vulnerable areas such as tents," and notes that one solider has been killed and several wounded in mortar attacks at the camp in question.

The implication that Google Earth bears some measure of responsibility is dubious considering the mapping software has its limitations.

Google spokesperson Rachel Whetstone said she was unable to comment on whether or not Google had spoken with British military representatives about this issue. She did say, however, that Google was receptive to such concerns when raised.

This isn't the first time that Google's avowed mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" has collided with the military need for secrecy.

In December 2005, the New York Times reported (registration required) that the governments of India, Russia, and South Korea, among others, were concerned that Google Earth images might reveal too much about their military bases.

A complicating factor in this controversy is that Google isn't actually using satellites to spy on anyone. The company buys its images from the likes of DigitalGlobe, an imagery company based in Colorado.

Whetstone said many people were aware of this. "I think there is a very clear understanding that you can get the information on Google Earth from other sources," she said. "The information all comes from third parties. Google Earth imagery, on the whole, is used for the purposes for which it was intended. Sadly, some things in life can be used for things we might not want them to be used for."

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