Legislator moves to limit Google Maps because of terrorist threat

California bill would cloud details in images of schools, government buildings, churches

A California state legislator has submitted a bill that would limit the amount of detail allowed in images available from applications such as Google Maps and Google Earth, contending that terrorists are using such online tools to plot attacks.

Assemblyman Joel Anderson submitted Bill AB 255 to the California legislature on Feb. 11. The bill, which is waiting to go to committee, would not allow online mapping tools from companies such as Google Inc. to provide aerial or satellite images of schools, places of worship, government buildings and medical facilities unless they have been blurred.

Anderson told Computerworld that he is looking to limit the amount of detail that Internet users can see.

"We heard from terrorists involved in the Mumbai attacks last year that they used Google Maps to select their targets and get knowledge about their targets. Hamas has said they were using Google Maps to target children's schools," said Anderson. "What my bill does is limit the level of detail [in Google Earth]. It doesn't stop people from getting directions. We don't need to help bad people map their next target. What is the purpose of showing air ducts and elevator shafts? It does no good."

Elaine Filadelfo, a spokeswoman for Google, said they are hoping to have a sit down with Anderson and talk about his concerns.

"We are happy to speak with Assemblyman Anderson's office regarding this legislation and hope to have a productive conversation," she added. "Google Maps and Google Earth provide users with a rich, immersive experience, offering useful information and enabling greater understanding of a specific location or area."

Anderson said he's not against online mapping and has sat down with Google officials to talk about other issues in the past. "My door is open," he said, adding that he hopes Google will help him craft future drafts of the legislation.

"I'm not talking about blacking out locations but changing levels of detail," he noted. "Just because the knowledge is there, [it] doesn't mean the information is useful."

If passed, this bill would only affect California, but Anderson said he's confident that other states, as well as federal lawmakers, will introduce similar bills.

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