When the popular search engine Google debuted a free global location tool in June, Internet users were given an opportunity to view full-color satellite photos from thousands of far-flung areas - from the Rocky Mountains to the Taj Mahal.
But this fall, Google Earth (www.earth. google.com) encountered an unexpected backlash: complaints from government officials who believe easy availability of high- resolution satellite images compromises their national security.
In India, President Abdul Kalam expressed concern that terrorists could use Google Earth to plan assaults on the Indian Parliament, which shows up clearly in one of Google's aerial photos. The program disproportionately endangers "developing countries, which are already in danger of attacks," Mr. Kalam said at an October meeting of police officials in Hyderabad.
Other nations have similar concerns. Operators of the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in Sydney, Australia, have argued that Google's satellite data makes their facility a sitting duck for terrorists. In South Korea, officials have expressed concern that online images of its military bases and the presidential Blue House could give rival North Korea a strategic advantage.
Experts are divided as to what recourse these nations have. International complainants aren't likely to get far with requests that US federal regulators crack down on Google, says Ray Williamson, a research professor at George Washington University's Space Policy Institute. "From a legal standpoint, they haven't got a leg to stand on," he says. "There's no law on the books about this, so the government's not likely to limit the availability of these images."