Google Pulls Army Base Maps, Says Photographer Violated Policy


Google spokesman Larry Yu says that Mountain View, Calif.,-based Google would comply with the military's request. "In those instances where they (the U.S military) have expressed concerns about the imagery, we have accommodated their requests," he told Reuters.

Commanders at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio sent the initial request for photos to be taken down, when images of the base were discovered at the end of February.

Google said one of its drivers, who would take photographs on which the maps are based, approached the gates, requested access, and when getting approval, proceeded on to the base.

"It was the driver who broke the policy," Yu confirmed to ChannelWeb. "We try to be very explicit with the drivers that they are to stay on public roads and not ask for entry to private areas, but maybe there is some ambiguity in their mind." Yu said he does not believe the driver, a contract worker, is currently associated with the Street View project.

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Street View allows users to scroll down city streets, recreated in 360-degree street-level panoramic photos. In some cities, the resolution is high enough to see into people's windows. Other privacy concerns arose from people caught in compromising situations, such as entering an adult bookstore. The U.S Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) confirmed a memo was sent out last week to other military installations instructing personnel to deny Google access to bases.

USNORTHCOM stepped in with a blanket memo after they became aware of the issue after high-resolution images taken at Fort Sam Houston. "It actually shows where all the guards are. It shows how the barriers go up and down. It shows how to get in and out of buildings," General Gene Renuart, commander of U.S. Northern Command, told Reuters. "I think that poses a real security risk for our military installations."

Lt. Colonel John Cornelio, a spokesman for USNORTHCOM, says they acted independently of the Pentagon, despite what numerous news media outlets reported. "We are under the DoD (Department of Defense) structure, so using 'the Pentagon' is one way of saying it" he said. "But the U.S. Northern Command has a force protection responsibility in the United States, and it became a force protection issue."

Cornelio says no authorization from the larger DoD structure in the Pentagon is necessary because under the force protection responsibilities of the U.S. Northern Command they are expected to handle any security encroachments that may arise. He added Google has been extremely cooperative in working with the military to have the images removed. "It happened very quickly, honestly," said Cornelio. "We've been very pleased with the level of their cooperation."

He said the request was merely a way to bring the issue to Google's attention, not any sort of reprimand. "I think most folks get it," he said. "People appreciate the level of detail you'd get from these maps. Yu agreed Google's policy of photographic only from areas of public access is an important rule. "Obviously it is not in our interest to breach that policy, as this instance demonstrates," he said.