Proposed Measure to Blur Hospitals and Other Buildings on Google Earth

By March 11, 2009

A new measure may compel virtual global browsers such as Google Maps and Google Earth to blur specified buildings. Bill AB 255 would prohibit operators of such services from "providing 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." California Assembly Member Joel Anderson, a Republican from San Diego, has proposed this legislation that would thwart terrorists similar to those that purportedly used Google Maps to select their targets and gain knowledge about building elements, Anderson informed Computerworld last week.

AB 255 would greatly alter usability, as well as cost the company that provide them huge sums of money. On Tuesday, CNET News sited the lack of specificity as one problematic section of the legislation, as well as the fines that could add up to $250,000 or more per day.

But Anderson said that all this bill does is limit the amount of detail that Internet users can access. "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." In fact, after privacy complaints, Google began blurring out people's faces in Street View, with no threat to the usability of the service.

Google spokesperson Elaine Filadelfo hopes to have a sit-down with Anderson to discuss such privacy concerns regarding the legislation. "Google Maps and Google Earth provide users with a rich, immersive experience, offering useful information and enabling greater understanding of a specific location or area," Filadelfo said.

If the bill passes, it will only affect California, but Anderson is confident that other states and the federal government will follow their example.

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