Mumbai attack aftermath includes stupid local legal petition against Google Earth

Understandable revulsion at the terror attacks on Mumbai has alas become intertwined with an idiotic need for indiscriminate blame-mongering and grandstanding — a local lawyer has now filed a petition in Bombay High Court demanding that all imagery of India be removed from Google Earth.

The petition filed by Mumbai-based lawyer Amit Karkhanis has demanded removal of images of the country from Google Earth.

“In the alternative, I have demanded that at least the images of vital installations in the country be blocked,” said Karkhanis.

“The petition is filed against the backdrop of terror attacks in Mumbai,” he said. “Even images of nuclear plants and defence establishments are available on this site. It is a security hazard,” he added.

What’s wrong with this story? Let us count the ways.

The terrorists didn’t attack “sensitive” targets like nuclear power plants or military bases. They attacked public spaces in the middle of a city, accessible to everyone with a camera, and visible on thousands of different kinds of maps. Google Earth’s imagery is the best of the bunch, perhaps, but not unique or irreplaceable. Removing it would not have prevented this attack.

Forcing Google to make imagery of India inaccessible to users of Google Earth in India would mean that everyone but people in India could access the imagery. Considering that the planning for the attacks likely took place outside India, such a ban would have achieved nothing, security-wise. And let’s not forget that people sophisticated enough to use VOIP to coordinate their attacks are also likely to know about proxy servers.

Karkhanis’s argument, if he were being consistent, is that progress must be stopped because it cannot be controlled. Because we cannot force people to use maps, mobile phones, GPS and the internet only for good, we must ban their use completely, even if the amount of good they do far outweighs the amount of evil they enable.

The Times of India (TOI) has further clues that Amit Karkhanis is not that clever:

The advocate, in his [petition], said the premium edition with a subscription of US $400 allowed even real-time maps and updates to be accessed. Even the pictures of the ongoing construction of the Worli-Bandra Sealink were available on the site, Karkhanis noted.

That’s just pure fantasy. The dataset is the same for both the free version and the paid version. (It would be really cool if real-time updates were possible, however:-)

One more fact check: TOI continues to claim, despite it being blatantly not the case and despite an on-the-record denial by Google, that Google had previously agreed to blur sensitive sites in India:

Last February [in 2007], as TOI had reported, the Indian government and Google Earth had agreed to show “fuzzy, low-resolution or distorted pictures” of sensitive military and scientific establishments on the web.

So perhaps the kind of media that manages to consistently misreport a verifiable fact should share the blame for this latest legal embarrassment. Amit Karkhanis probably reads TOI uncritically.

In sum, there is not much to worry about — anyone can file this kind of petition, and a modicum of critical thinking will lead to its dismissal.

In the meantime, UK’s Times Online has a balanced piece that raises the question of how India’s upcoming official mapping service, Bhuvan, is meant to show India after Mumbai’s terror episode. Bhuvan’s backers say it will have imagery of India that is more frequently updated and of higher resolution that Google Earth, though with censored sensitive sites. Do those sites include central Mumbai now? Or can Bhuvan predict where terrorists will strike next and automatically blur those places? If not, is the Indian government prepared for news that a potential future terror attack in say, downtown Calcutta, was planned with Bhuvan?

6 thoughts on “Mumbai attack aftermath includes stupid local legal petition against Google Earth”

  1. Using the same logic as Mister Karkhanis, I think we should really put up a petition that would ask government to ban weapons. As you said “Because we cannot force people to use maps, mobile phones, GPS and the internet only for good, we must ban their use completely, even if the amount of good they do far outweighs the amount of evil they enable.”

    I’d have to say that for certain king of weapons I’d think the answer should be yes.

    But come on, baning imagery? Why not forbid hotel from putting pictures of there inside and outside on there website on the ground that it could be used by terrorist for “evil”.

    Great post.


  2. Actually, using his logic, it would also make sense to ban lawyers – and fast! They are frequently representing thieves, murderers, corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, ganglords and ofcourse, terrorists – even gaming laws and helping them go scot free. So aren’t they aiding and abetting agents of evil in society. Terrorists

    By representing terrorists, lawyers make sure that terrorists are not subject to be punished with the same cruelty that they subject their victims to. And ofcourse, lawyers frequently victimise the innocent too. By frequently acting as brokers between crimminals and corrupt judges. By causing cases to run for years to squeeze hapless clients dry.

    Perhaps the naive fellow who submitted this PIL is not one of them. But then, why not ban him too just because he is of the same fraternity? Hows that for a flawed argument?

    In any case, his PIL makes me wonder if he is at all fit to be a lawyer in the first place. I hope his clients have more sense than to retain him in future.

  3. Well 50-50% is both right

    so we need balance approach.

    So instead of fighting we need solution and early.

  4. I think India government (especially, Sonia govt.) does not have the political or international acumen to deal with this scenario. India is a soft nation and so can be easily pushed around. Look at the terror attacks one after the another. The latest example is Mumabi. The younger generation of our country is either crazy for the film stars and the popular movie personalities, spend their time go to bars, play”>>play blackjack for fun or busy in worshiping the game called cricket…huh..!

  5. Why none is interested in uniting per oneness of Ishwar-Allah-God and fight terrorists in Pakistan with local support for oneness of preaching by good God?

  6. Am for 50-50. Certain point of view, Its right not to allow all sensitive part on google and easy access to ennemy, This will help terrorist get better plan.India has a permanent ennemy, Pak,which will use all possible means. So allowing google image view, might also help plan

    some attacks.And about indian government, Its true;Any ammateur terrorist could have done it, for its internal system has got too many waek points.Police and commando’s not well equiped.Searoute open to all, no surveillance.Even if the terrorist would not have had special training, they would have done same harm. Indian people too absorbed with movies and cricket. Politicians oo busy making money. India left without defence.No one to care about the country.Whole country and system corrupt. More terrorist inside india than Pakistan.

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