Indian security agencies to tackle websites showing logistics
* Want to block free access to sites uploading details of sensitive locations
* Stress they have no way of handling sophisticated attacks planned on the basis of such imagery
By Iftikhar Gilani
NEW DELHI: A meeting is scheduled for Wednesday (today) to address the concerns of Indian security agencies over an increasing number of Internet websites showing satellite maps, terrain images and three-dimensional pictures of sensitive areas that could be targeted by terrorists.
The aim of the meeting is to examine the ways in which to tackle other Internet websites that display maps, pictures and satellite imagery that could be misused.
Security agencies are pressing for ways to block the free access of these sites in the interest of national security. They point out that the United States has succeeded in blocking all its sensitive areas with white marks.
China and Japan have also similarly blocked some sites, including those belonging to Google that posed national security risks.
The first warning about dangers from the Internet sites came in 2005 from the then Indian president, APJ Abdul Kalam, when he went through Google Earth and Google Maps and found details, including images of his own Rashtrapati Bhawan and a host of other sensitive government establishments, including weaponry deposits and army camps.
Debbie Frost, a spokeswoman of the California-based Goggle, was quick to react at the time, saying: “Google takes governmental concerns about Google Earth and Google Maps very seriously, welcomes dialogue with governments, and we will be happy to talk to Indian authorities about any concerns they may have.”
Two years of dialogue initiated by the Ministry of Science and Technology ultimately resulted in Google camouflaging the sites identified by the government with low-resolution pictures that may not have the sharpness that gives out the exact location and details of the government’s sensitive establishments.
Security agencies, however, say this is not enough since new websites are springing up and giving details of government establishments. For instance, they submitted to the ministry some of the satellite images hosted on Wikimapia and pointed out that other websites upload similar pictures as well.
Unknown threat: Security agencies’ major concern is that they have no way of handling sophisticated attacks planned on the basis of precise map imagery. Such an eventuality, they stress, would pose an unknown national security threat.
The agencies had earlier approached the Ministry of Information Technology, which deals with computer technology, with a suggestion that the government block the websites putting up pictures or satellite imagery of sensitive locations.
The ministry, however, pointed out that there was no way that the websites be blocked completely given that even if their viewing were blocked in India, they would still be accessible to viewers in other countries such as Pakistan and China.
The issue was subsequently shifted to the Ministry of Science and Technology, which ultimately got Google to agree to address government concerns.