Update: Google Earth and the Mumbai Terror Attacks

In early December 2008, an Indian court was convened to ban Google Earth amid suggestions that the online satellite imaging was used to aid terrorists in planning the November terror attacks in Mumbai. According to late January reports in the Times of London, Google has dismissed concerns that terrorists are using its mapping technology to aid them in plotting and carrying out attacks.

John Hanke, the head of Google Earth and Google Maps said that advances in technology could always be ill-used and that it was impossible to say that any attack would not have taken place if Google Earth hadn’t existed.

Regarding terrorism Hanke stated: “the evilness is in the philosophies and the desires of those that want to do evil. They will use the tools at hand to do that, whether it's throwing a Molotov cocktail, or shooting a rifle or using some piece of technology as part of the process.”

He continued, questioning: "If Google Earth didn't exist, would they have used a tourist map they could have bought or was the real intelligence actually coming from an on-the-ground informant who was working in the hotel and drawing layouts of everything on a napkin?"

This continued concern over the use of Google Earth highlights an important divide between cultures of the East and West. The idea that open information is more “valuable,” as Hanke stated, is more of a Western ideal, whereas countries with closed information societies are more likely to view Google Earth and similar information tools as a threat to national control and security.

Hanke comments on this, stating: “You have top down command and control types of governments like those in China to some extent and in Russia and legacies of that in places like India where these issues at the government level are more prevalent for us."