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There is little that is surprising about India’s recent refusal to allow Google to launch its Street View service, which gives users a 360-degree view of public spaces. As this newspaper has reported, the proposal was rejected following objections raised by the Defence Ministry. The decision is said to have come in the backdrop of the terror attack on the Pathankot airbase in January, with investigators suspecting that terrorists used Google Maps to study the topography of the targeted area. Barely days after the airbase attack, the Delhi High Court asked the government to examine the issue of sensitive locations such as defense installations and nuclear power plants showing on Google Maps. It isn’t clear if these concerns have been addressed. Street View goes a step further than the maps. It displays panoramic views of public spaces, thanks to images captured by Google’s moving vehicles, adding a layer of depth and reality to the maps. India has hinted that its refusal is not final and that such issues could be resolved once the Geospatial Bill, which seeks to regulate map-creation and sharing, comes into force. But it is unclear whether this will help, given that the proposed legislation is somewhat overenthusiastic about regulation. India isn’t the first country to seem troubled by Street View. Since its launch in 2007 in the U.S., the service has faced roadblocks in many countries. In the U.S., for instance, both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense had concerns over Google capturing images of sensitive locations. In Europe, especially Germany, concerns over loss of privacy took center stage. The script wasn’t different in Japan. And yet, Street View is available in all these countries. Solutions were eventually found. Before long, the service figured out a way to blur people’s faces and license plates automatically before the pictures were made public. In the U.S., Google was asked to remove sensitive information, and its image-capturing cars were ordered to keep off military bases. In Germany, households were given the option of blurring their buildings. In Japan, the height from which the cameras scanned the neighborhoods were lowered and local governments were notified prior to Google’s photography. Even Israel, which takes internal security very seriously, gave the green signal to Street View five years ago, reportedly making sure Google doesn’t show images in real-time and only photographs public spaces open to all. While there is an obvious tourism angle involved, Google representatives have spoken of Street View’s usefulness in disaster management. All things considered, it might not be in India’s best interests to keep out this technology for long.
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