The Pentagon says the Street View feature in Google Maps can compromise military security. It has banned Google vehicles from entering any military installation after detailed images of Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Tex., appeared on Google Maps.
"We don't have any issues regarding Google and their products, which are very useful tools," said Gary Ross, a public-affairs officer for the U.S. Northern Command. "But the Street View provides clear imagery of control points, barriers, headquarters and security facilities that pose a risk to our force-protection efforts."
Driver Violated Policy
Google said the images were taken improperly and have been removed. "It is against Google's policy for a driver to seek access to a military base," Google spokesperson Larry Yu said. "Against our policy, we did mistakenly access the base. ... In those instances where (the military) have expressed concerns about the imagery, we have accommodated their requests."
The Los Angeles Times reported that a Sam Houston official twice granted Google access after the Google driver promised he would not videotape or photograph. The official believed an online map would be useful to guide visitors.
Yu said Google would continue to work with Department of Defense officials to ensure that sensitive imagery does not appear on Google Maps.
An Isolated Incident?
It's not clear whether the situation at Sam Houston was the only breach of policy. Comments from Gen. Gene Renuart, head of the military command responsible for homeland defense, suggested the problems were widespread. "We've got to get a sense of what is there and see how we can mitigate it," Renuart told reporters at the Pentagon.
"It actually shows where all the guards are. It shows how the barriers go up and down. It shows how to get in and out of buildings," said Renuart, commander of the U.S. Northern Command. "I think that poses a real security risk for our military installations."
The military has been showing increasing impatience with the amount of information on the Internet. Last month the Air Force instituted widespread Web filtering blocking all sites with "blog" in their URLs. The policy does allow airmen to access mainstream news sites.
"Often, we block first and then review exceptions," said Tech. Sgt. Christopher DeWitt, a spokesperson for the Air Force Cyber Command.
For the military, which has traditionally depended on the ability to control information from the top down, the rapid expansion of writing, research, imagery and mapping technology is creating new challenges.
"People know the rules have changed, but they don't know what the new rules are," defense analyst John Pike told the Times. "All sorts of things are possible today that could not even be described 10 years ago."