Google Earth: Bane or Ban?

Since India was rocked by the unfortunate terrorist attacks at the Taj in Mumbai, technology has become the latest target. A petition has been filed in the high court against the revolutionary geographical mapping tool ‘Google Earth.’ The petition says that Google Earth “aided the terrorists in mapping and plotting the attacks” and “offers absolutely no control to prevent misuse or limit access” to details of nearby sensitive locations, such as the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), in northeast Mumbai, which houses at least two nuclear reactors, is regarded as one of India’s most vulnerable targets.


In fact, investigations to Mumbai terror attacks revealed that terrorists have turned “Tech-Savvy” as they used GPS and other high tech tools to plot, execute and then monitor the attacks with ease. There’s also a mention of Faheem Ahmed Ansari, a suspected militant in the terror strikes, saying that he was shown some Indian locations on Google Earth by his terrorist organization and he was carrying maps of nine targets in southern Mumbai, including the Taj Mahal hotel and other sites attacked last month. These revelations have brought Google Earth in the eye of storm. “Should it be banned?” “Should it be censored?” are the questions doing the rounds of the Indian Government, judiciary as well as many blogs.


The point I am trying to make is that if by banning Google Earth, our terrorism nightmares will disappear, then we need to break the slumber. Even if Google Earth is banned from India, terrorists can always access it from some other parts of the globe and achieve their vicious motives.Infact, even if the Indian Government asks Google Earth to blur the images of the sensitive locations like the Rashtrapati Bhawan or our defence installations, the problem is not solved.


Firstly, there are a plethora of other GPS sites like Microsoft’s on line map which can be viewed in 3D and ‘Satnav’ an online map that guides to most places on earth, sight or sightless. Secondly, places like the Taj, Oberoi or Chabad House are not exactly sensitive locations, but tourist places. If I am not mistaken, most terrorist attacks have either bombed the busy locales or market places where the citizens can be wounded. Banning or censoring technology will not put an end to our terrorist woes. If that be the case, we should even ban the Internet as the terrorists thwarted the security agency attempts to monitor their communications, by using internet telephony service similar to Skype, the free tool used by millions of ordinary web surfers.


In fact, even the cell phones which were used by the perpetrators to update each other or the boats which were used by them to reach Mumbai should be banned. By such foolish measures, we will only be depriving the common man of technologies, developed to make his life smoother. Terrorists in any case believe that they can control our life and death by pressing a button. By making such lifestyle compromises we’ll not be achieving anything but strengthening their belief and position.


Another perspective which can’t be overlooked is that the complaint comes just weeks after the Indian Space Research Organization announced its own version of Google Earth called ‘Bhuvan’.The project will use a network of satellites to create a high-resolution, birds-eye view of India – and later, possibly, the rest of the world – that will be accessible free of cost online and will compete with Google. ISRO officials claim that Bhuvan will provide images of far greater resolution than are currently available online. Bhuvan is believed to be a four times more powerful version of Google Earth and will also refresh its images every year. This raises many doubts on the aim of the petition filed as there’s more to one than meets the eye. With India developing a similar GPS system, the entire hue and cry may just be attempts to ban competition. Hence, filing petitions to ban Google Earth would be self contradicting our own position.


Whatever is the case, such petitions project a terribly irrational and helpless image of our country especially in face of allegations that the Indian intelligence woefully failed in preventing the audacious terror strikes. Blaming technology won’t resolve anything. The solution lies in developing an effective counter-terrorism mechanism by building an efficient Intelligence and force network. So let’s not sacrifice our liberties for a bunch of fanatics whose triumph lies in our compromise.


Akshuna Bakshi

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