google & state security

PP wants talks on removing strategic facilities from online maps

Spain has never asked for certain areas to be blurred, says Google España

The Popular Party (PP) has filed a measure in Congress asking for the defense committee to hold discussions over whether to demand that online mapping services blur locations and block data on certain strategic areas across Spain, including military bases and nuclear facilities.

The reason for the demand is to protect national security against possible terrorist acts, according to Europa Press.

PP lawmakers explain that these technologies -- while "very useful" for the public when used, for example, in vehicle GPS devices -- can serve as crucial aids for criminals. They say that satellite mapping now available on the internet provides information on not only military bases but other sensitive sites and facilities, which could jeopardize national security.

Some terrorist groups have publicly acknowledged that such tools have helped them carry out attacks, PP lawmakers state in their petition. New technologies such as smartphones are useful for criminals, while protestors have used mobile applications such as WhatsApp to organize civil disobedience and public demonstrations. The proposed legislative initiative by the PP comes eight years after the release of Google Maps on the internet, but in their measure the ruling party deputies do not point to any particular service or applications.

Currently Google, Apple, Nokia and various car navigation systems provide a wide-range of mapping information on Spain, as well as the rest of the world. Restrictions placed on Google Maps and similar services are not new, and have occurred without any specific legislation passed against them. In 2005, a few months after the release of Google Maps, the service blurred the home of then US Vice President, Dick Cheney, and later did the same with the home of the president of North Korea. It has also blurred the Dutch royal family's properties, NATO headquarters and oil installations.

The Pentagon asked Google Earth to eliminate all images showing the inside of its military bases

Usually, satellite navigation and automatic cartography systems are electronically misled when they try to map out military bases and nuclear power plants, but they cannot avoid the aerial photos that people placemark on the site. The Pentagon asked Google Earth to eliminate all images showing the inside of its military bases and, of course, those showing its installations in Iraq, and prohibited Google employees access to shoot for its Street View program.

Officials at Google España say that at no time has the Spanish government asked them to blur any installation, neither military bases, the Zarzuela royal palace nor the prime minister's La Moncloa residence.

"We have don't have an established protocol," said a Google España spokeswoman. "We discuss, debate and act on each case accordingly."

"It is obvious that these new ways of gaining information through maps are not a source of terrorism, but they can facilitate the committing of terrorist acts if the data on sensitive installations is not properly protected," the PP said in its measure.

Policies in different counties differ. In Australia, for example, the Canberra government declined to ask Google to remove certain areas because "the level of detail was so low it was not worth it." In Malaysia, government officials considered that by smudging an area, enemies would have clues as to what strategic targets to attack.

Nevertheless, the PP said it is unfortunate this type of information is located in databases outside Spain and that there are no international laws or agreements concerning the dissemination of data by private companies relevant to national security.

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