WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc has complied with a request by the Pentagon to remove some online images from its street-level map service because they pose a security threat to U.S. military bases, military and company officials said on Thursday.
Gen. Gene Renuart, head of the military command responsible for homeland defense, said the Pentagon had talked to Google about the risks and expected the company to cooperate in removing selected images from its Street View service.
“We have been contacted by the military,” Google spokesman Larry Yu said. “In those instances where they (the U.S military) have expressed concerns about the imagery, we have accommodated their requests.”
The Defense Department, which is still studying how many images are available, has also banned Google teams from taking video images on bases.
“We’ve got to get a sense of what is there and see how we can mitigate it,” Renuart said.
But because many images were taken from public streets, the military may not have a legal right to request that videos be pulled.
Street View, a feature of Google Maps, offers ground-level, 360-degree views of streets in 30 U.S. cities. Web users are able to drive down a street, in a virtual sense, using their mouse to adjust views of roadside scenery.
The feature has become a popular service for drivers seeking to plan a trip to an unfamiliar neighborhoods. But from the outset, Street View has been a magnet of controversy over potential privacy invasion of people captured in the images.
In one instance, a man was pictured exiting a San Francisco strip club. In another case, a woman was shown sunbathing. Complaints have even included a woman asking that a picture of her cat be taken down, a request Google denied.
The images that worry the Pentagon include views of bases, including security at the entrances to those installations.
“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 U.S. Northern Command.
“I think that poses a real security risk for our military installations,” he told reporters at the Pentagon.
The Google spokesman said his company’s policy was to photograph only those images visible from public roads.
“It is against Google’s policy for a driver to seek access to a military base,” Yu said.
Street View has yet to be introduced outside the United States. Web-based Google Maps and a related computer-based service called Google Earth have drawn criticism from a variety of countries for providing images of sensitive locations, such as military bases or potential targets of terror attacks.
The services rely on civilian versions of satellite maps that it licenses from commercial mapping services.
Editing by Stuart Grudgings