India's own Google Earth causes security worries

NEW DELHI Tue Mar 10, 2009 7:45am EDT

Pigeons fly around Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai December 22, 2008. REUTERS/Arko Datta

Pigeons fly around Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai December 22, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Arko Datta

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India is launching its own version of Google Earth for urban planning, officials said, amid worries that it could be misused after the Mumbai attacks probe showed militants had studied Google images of targets.

India's version of Google Earth called Bhuvan, is a Web-based service developed by India's National Remote Sensing Center (NRSC).

The service is aimed at helping scientists, town planners and administrators in areas of disaster management as well, officials said.

It is expected to go one better than Google Earth, helping viewers gauge the soil type and ground water potential across the mainland with high resolution images and data from satellites.

"We are working with the government for a 2.5 meter (7 feet) resolution," NRSC director V. Jayaraman, told Reuters from the southern Indian city of Hyderabad.

"We'll be putting a lot of thematic information like land use, ground water potential and soil types, which are not available on Google Earth," another NRSC scientist said on conditions of anonymity, as he is not authorized to speak.

But there are security concerns that Bhuvan could be misused because usage would be free.

"Giving satellite images to everyone will obviously have some kind of a security impact," said Ajai Sahni of New Delhi's Institute for Conflict Management.

"There is a possibility of misuse of such technology," Sahni said.

The lone surviving gunman of the Mumbai attacks, Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, told interrogators that all 10 gunmen were shown Google images of the locations they attacked in the country's financial capital, during their training, officials said.

Nearly 170 people were killed in the three-day siege that revealed glaring loopholes in India's security system.

Security analyst Uday Bhaskar said there needs to be a global consensus on availability of such technology.

"There should be a global consensus on what is the kind of technology disseminated and what kind of firewall we need to erect for our own internal security," Bhaskar said.

NRSC officials said important buildings could be masked.

(Editing by Bappa Majumdar)

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