By Miriam Raftery March 18, 2009 (San Diego)--Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) has introduced AB 255, a bill that seeks to prevent terrorist acts by blurring online images of schools, government buildings, churches and medical facilities through Google Earth and other online aerial mapping technologies. The measure has drawn the attention of CNN News and sparked a debate among high-tech advocates in Silicon Valley. "After the Mumbai attacks, the Indian government found that the lone surviving terrorist used Google's online maps and the level of detail it offered made them effective," Anderson stated in an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper. "If you go throughout the world, many countries are trying to shut down Google mapping," the Assemblyman said, adding that India is striving to prevent Google and other online mapping services from showing sensitive facilities in detail. "I'm not against technology," said Anderson, who noted that Google earth reveals details such as the number of bricks and location of air shafts.
The bill would prohibit operators of commercial Internet websites or online services offering virtual globe browsers from publishing satellite images of specified facilities unless they were blurred, and would also prohibit virtual globe browser makers from providing street view photographs of such buildings. Violations would be subject to fines of up to $250,000 per day. CNN has speculated that the measure could be a harbinger of a national trend. The measure has drawn criticism from some technology advocates. "Anderson says he's not against technology, but it's clear he's against common sense," wrote Thomas Claburn, columnist for Information Week. "The features photographed on satellite imagery are, more or less, visible from the ground. There were terrorist attacks before Google Earth were available and there will continue to be terrorist attacks, whether or not Google Earth's images are blurred." He likened banning images of facilities online over fear of terrorism attacks to banning guns because terrorists might use them. "If the Constitution ever gets a 28th Amendment, pray that it bans knee-jerk fear-mongering legislation," the barbed commentary concluded. Others have raised concern over censorship and First Amendment freedoms. In Bahrain, after critics revealed satellite images of squalid slums juxtaposed next to leaders' palaces, the ruling government reportedly ordered palace images removed from Google Earth. Anderson said he believes the bill would hold up in court and likens posting sensitive info online to shouting fire in a crowded building. He noted that he has met with representatives from Google and Microsoft. "I do want to work with them in good faith," he told CNN, and said he expects the bill will undergo changes but that the concept will remain intact. "Public safety is my number one job," Anderson concluded. "Let's not wait until an American has to die in order to do the right thing."