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Mumbai attacks: Indian suit against Google Earth over image use by terrorists

An Indian lawyer has filed a suit against Google Earth, claiming terrorists used it to plan last month's attack on Mumbai and demanding that it block satellite images of sensitive places in the country.


"It (Google Earth) is a security hazard" lawyer Amit Karkhani said after filing a public interest case in the Mumbai high court that is expected to come up for hearing on December 18.

Investigators into the Mumbai terror attack, which killed 171 people, claim that the 10 gunmen who struck two luxury hotels, a nearby Jewish Centre and the crowded Chhatrapati Shivaji station, used Google Earth to memorise images of their targets to synchronise their assault.

Mr Karkhani said that he had asked Google Earth to block images of vital installations like Indian nuclear plants and defence establishments, which rendered them vulnerable to similar terrorist strikes.

India's federal defence and science and technology ministries were also party to the suit, as the former deals with security issues and the latter with dissemination of scientific information.

The US-based Google Earth, a subsidiary of the popular search website Google, provides detailed satellite images to a 50cm resolution of many locations worldwide on its website.

This is not the first time that India has expressed concern over Google Earth images being used by terrorists to attack targets inside the country.

In 2005, former president A P J Abdul Kalam, a distinguished military and nuclear scientist, had declared that "sensitive areas clearly marked on Google Earth" could provide insurgents and enemy forces with sufficient knowledge to launch an attack.

He also said that prevailing laws in India and abroad were "inadequate" in restricting the use of such detailed images, maps and related information making them a security hazard.

A spokesman for the popular search engine said: "Google strongly condemns acts of terrorism and violence. We stand by the citizens of India and the city of Mumbai as they recover from the attacks.

"Tools such as Google Earth are built from information that is already available from both commercial and public sources, and it is important to remember that the same information is available to anyone who purchases imagery from those public sources. Google's freely available technology has been used for vital purposes ranging from fighting forest fires to emergency response, rescue, and relief in natural disasters. In India, Google Earth has been used for flood relief in Gujarat, Tsunami relief and rehabilitation in southern India and earthquake relief in Kashmir.

"We believe that the benefits of access to tools such as Google Earth for such valuable purposes far outweigh any negatives from potential misuse.

"Google is always willing to discuss relevant issues with public agencies and officials," the spokesman added.





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