India security services find new threat: Google Maps API sites

It’s been a few months since the more paranoid elements in India’s government have acted regarding Google’s mapping services, so it’s about time that we get another volley, this time aimed at sites that use the Google Maps API, like Wikimapia. An article by India’s Times Now manages to get this news across, together with some hilarious mixed metaphors:

The government is worried over several websites that give detailed, high resolution images of some of the country’s top secret nuclear installations. In a country that has suffered series of terror attacks, high resolution pictures of sensitive installations on the website implies a glaring security loophole, which cannot be ignored. In a bid to unplug the security loophole, various ministries are likely to meet with intelligence agencies on Tuesday (May 13).

[...] For example, the website — www.wikimapia.com — gives you a high resolution bird’s-eye-view of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) — and on clicking zoom in, you can see everything right from the nuclear reactor to the radiological laboratory.

Pakistan’s Daily Times, reporting the same news, seems to be under the impression that while Google Earth has censored some imagery of India as a result of requests by India’s government, sites like Wikimapia are taking Google’s place by continuing to make sensitive information available. This is wrong on two counts. Google has not degraded any imagery over India (that false meme borne from wishful thinking in India’s media was debunked back in 2006), and since wikimapia.com uses the Google Maps API, it has the exact same base layer as Google Earth.

BARC.jpg

The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre is indeed annotated in Wikimapia, but it’s also immediately visible by doing a search for it in Google Earth. With the results of crowdsourced intelligence gathering now being distributed across multiple sites (not just Google Earth Community anymore) it is high time that India’s security services learn to operate under the assumption that there are satellites watching overhead (just like everybody else’s security services do) rather than futilely trying to constrain information already out in the public domain.