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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.

Thomas Claburn

January 17, 2007

2 Min Read

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."

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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