Security chiefs spy trouble over Google images
THE ultimate mapping tool enables computer users to zoom in on any location on the planet from outer space.
But the latest offering from the internet giant Google is causing headaches for security chiefs who worry that it could make the task of terrorists that much easier by allowing high-quality satellite pictures of sensitive targets to be placed on the web.
Britain's nuclear security watchdog has warned the company that it will act to stop detailed pictures of atomic power stations being made available.
The Australian government has already demanded that pictures of a nuclear plant should be removed from the site, while American soldiers are concerned that the software may have been used to help target US bases in Iraq.
The Office for Civil Nuclear Security (OCNS), which oversees security at all the UK's civil atomic plants, says it regards the Google Earth software as a "security issue" and that it would act to prevent highly detailed images of British nuclear power stations being made available.
Google has said it is striving to improve the quality of the pictures available in the software, which vary between very detailed images for some cities - such as Glasgow - and low-resolution pictures of areas such as the surroundings of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria.
A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry, which speaks for the OCNS, said: "It is an issue for us. At present the quality of the images is such as not to give concern but if the pictures were of a higher resolution then that would be a different issue."
A source added: "If there were to be high-quality detailed images made available of security-sensitive areas then we would intervene to stop things like that getting out. We would have to take steps to prevent security being jeopardised."
The authorities in Australia have already called for Google to screen out images of a nuclear power station amid worries that the information might be of use to terrorists.
A spokeswoman for Google said the software did not contain any data that was not already available.
She said: "Google Earth is built from information that is already available from both commercial and public sources. The same information is available to anyone who flies over or drives by a piece of property."
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