FREE PRESS -- Greg Sterling, writing at SearchEngine.com, reports that in reaction to the Mumbai terrorists’ statement that they used Google Maps as a planning tool, a California Assemblyman from El Cajon
has introduced a bill which would “not allow online mapping tools from
companies like Google Inc. to provide aerial or satellite images of
schools, places of worship, government buildings and medical facilities
unless they have been blurred.”

Presumably this doesn’t apply only to Google and extends to
Microsoft, Yahoo!, MapQuest, Ask and others that offer satellite maps
and related imagery. According to a news article the Assemblyman, Joel Anderson, said:

“What my bill does is limit the level of detail [ in
Google Earth ]. It doesn’t stop people from getting directions. We
don’t need to help bad people map their next target. What is the
purpose of showing air ducts and elevator shafts? It does no good.”

As introduced, AB 255 would prohibit

an operator . . . of a commercial Internet Web site or online service that makes a virtual globe browser available to members of the public fromproviding aerial or satellite photographs or imagery of places in this state that have been identified on the Internet Web site by the operator as a school, place of worship, or government or medical building or facility unless those photographs or images have been blurred. The bill would also prohibit that operator from providing street view photographs or imagery of those buildings and facilities. An operator that violates these provisions would be guilty of a crime and subject to a fine of not less than $250,000 for each day the operator is in violation of these provisions. In addition, an operator who is an executive officer or member of a board of directors who knowingly violates these provisions would also be subject to imprisonment in the state prison for one, 2, or 3 years.

Sterling wonders if regulating Internet delivery of satellite images this way is a wise choice of priorities.

If you live in the world of technology it’s easy to quickly dismiss
something like this as naive or reactionary or both. That was my first
impulse. But it’s also important to recognize the concerns at the heart
of this bill, which is unlikely to pass, as legitimate. Technology is
moving much faster than the human ability to assimilate and cope with
it. To some degree, efforts like this stem from frustration over that
fact and represent an attempt to “do something” to address real or
perceived problems.  

Terrorists are in fact using these tools but they also use other
tools as well. The question is: where do we put our efforts and focus?

Would Assemblyman Anderson be equally disposed to limiting access to
guns and clamp down on automatic weapons trafficking because automatic
weapons are used in these attacks? I don’t know his personal views on
guns but Republicans in the US have historically been reluctant to
regulate guns in any way. (I’m not trying to suggest that there’s any
analogy between guns and online mapping tools.) In this context it’s
quite silly to argue that mapping should be regulated when there’s a
corresponding refusal to pursue much more dangerous instruments of
terrorism.

Limiting “sensitive” information displayed in online mapping has its
place but what information should be considered “sensitive”? Indeed,
those limitations or restrictions should be defined very narrowly.
These tools are now very valuable to people in their daily lives and
should remain generally accessible.