Aerial photographs of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre on Google Earth
An Indian Court has been called to ban Google Earth amid suggestions the online satellite imaging was used to help plan the terror attacks that killed more than 170 people in Mumbai last month.
A petition entered at the Bombay High Court alleges that the Google Earth service, "aids terrorists in plotting attacks". Advocate Amit Karkhanis has urged the court to direct Google to blur images of sensitive areas in the country until the case is decided.
There are indications that the gunmen who stormed Mumbai on November 26, and the people trained them, were technically literate. The group appears to have used complex GPS systems to navigate their way to Mumbai by sea. They communicated by satellite phone, used mobile phones with several different SIM cards, and may have monitored events as the siege unfolded via handheld Blackberry web browsers.
Police in Mumbai have said the terrorists familiarised themselves with the streets of Mumbai's financial capital using satellite images, according to the sole gunman to be captured alive. The commandos who stormed the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai said the militants had made a beeline for the building's CCTV control room.
he legal petition also follows unconfirmed reports that Faheem Ahmed Ansari, a suspected militant who was arrested in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in February, said he was shown maps of Indian locations on Google Earth by members of Lashkar-e-Taiber, the Pakistan-based terrorist faction that Indian officials are convinced was behind the Mumbai attacks.
Ansari was carrying a fake Pakistani passport and a list and maps of nine targets in southern Mumbai, including the Taj Mahal hotel and other sites attacked last month, a senior police officer told The Times.
Security agencies have called for the wealth of data available on Google Earth to be limited for several years amid fears the freely available application may prove invaluable for militants planning terrorist attacks.
In 2005, the operators of Australia's nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights called on the internet giant to censor images of the plant, warning that the images could be used by terrorists.
Earlier, the satellite photographs of the installation would have been available only to a handful of government agencies and NASA, they said.
In the same year, it was reported that Google omitted to blur the roof of the White House in Washington when it updated the images available on Google Earth – something it had done previously.
South Korea and Thailand also complained after the layout of air bases was revealed.
The Mumbai terrorists concentrated their attacks in south Mumbai, a popular tourist location. However, the plea filed with the Bombay High Court claims that Google Earth includes "absolutely no control to prevent misuse or limit access" to details of nearby sensitive locations, such as the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.
The complaint comes just weeks after India said it would launch its own version of Google Earth.
The project, dubbed Bhuvan (Sanskrit for Earth), is being developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), which is based in Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of the subcontinent.
It comes as India redoubles its efforts to reap profits from its 45-year-old space programme, long criticised as a drain on a country where 700 million people live on USD2 a day or less.
Bhuvan will use a network of satellites to create a high-resolution, birds-eye view of India – and later, possibly, the rest of the world – that will be accessible at no cost online and will compete with Google.
Isro officials say Bhuvan will provide images of far greater resolution than are currently available online – particularly of the subcontinent, a region where large areas remain virtually unmapped.
The agency intends to refresh its images every year – a feature that would give it an edge over its biggest rival and help keep track of the frenetic pace at which India's cities are growing.
About 2.5 million people used Google Earth in the UK last month, according to Neilsen, the web analysts, making it the web's seventh most popular application behind tools such as Apple's iTunes (fourth with 5.7 million users) and Windows Live Messenger (first with 14.8 million).
By Gideon Rachman
Published: December 8 2008 19:13 | Last updated: December 8 2008 19:13
I have never believed that there is a secret United Nations plot to take over the US. I have never seen black helicopters hovering in the sky above Montana. But, for the first time in my life, I think the formation of some sort of world government is plausible.
A "world government" would involve much more than co-operation between nations. It would be an entity with state-like characteristics, backed by a body of laws. The European Union has already set up a continental government for 27 countries, which could be a model. The EU has a supreme court, a currency, thousands of pages of law, a large civil service and the ability to deploy military force.
So could the European model go global? There are three reasons for thinking that it might.
First, it is increasingly clear that the most difficult issues facing national governments are international in nature: there is global warming, a global financial crisis and a "global war on terror".
Second, it could be done. The transport and communications revolutions have shrunk the world so that, as Geoffrey Blainey, an eminent Australian historian, has written: "For the first time in human history, world government of some sort is now possible." Mr Blainey foresees an attempt to form a world government at some point in the next two centuries, which is an unusually long time horizon for the average newspaper column.
But – the third point – a change in the political atmosphere suggests that "global governance" could come much sooner than that. The financial crisis and climate change are pushing national governments towards global solutions, even in countries such as China and the US that are traditionally fierce guardians of national sovereignty.
Barack Obama, America's president-in-waiting, does not share the Bush administration's disdain for international agreements and treaties. In his book, The Audacity of Hope, he argued that: "When the world's sole superpower willingly restrains its power and abides by internationally agreed-upon standards of conduct, it sends a message that these are rules worth following." The importance that Mr Obama attaches to the UN is shown by the fact that he has appointed Susan Rice, one of his closest aides, as America's ambassador to the UN, and given her a seat in the cabinet.
A taste of the ideas doing the rounds in Obama circles is offered by a recent report from the Managing Global Insecurity project, whose small US advisory group includes John Podesta, the man heading Mr Obama's transition team and Strobe Talbott, the president of the Brookings Institution, from which Ms Rice has just emerged.
The MGI report argues for the creation of a UN high commissioner for counter-terrorist activity, a legally binding climate-change agreement negotiated under the auspices of the UN and the creation of a 50,000-strong UN peacekeeping force. Once countries had pledged troops to this reserve army, the UN would have first call upon them.
These are the kind of ideas that get people reaching for their rifles in America's talk-radio heartland. Aware of the political sensitivity of its ideas, the MGI report opts for soothing language. It emphasises the need for American leadership and uses the term, "responsible sovereignty" – when calling for international co-operation – rather than the more radical-sounding phrase favoured in Europe, "shared sovereignty". It also talks about "global governance" rather than world government.
But some European thinkers think that they recognise what is going on. Jacques Attali, an adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, argues that: "Global governance is just a euphemism for global government." As far as he is concerned, some form of global government cannot come too soon. Mr Attali believes that the "core of the international financial crisis is that we have global financial markets and no global rule of law".
So, it seems, everything is in place. For the first time since homo sapiens began to doodle on cave walls, there is an argument, an opportunity and a means to make serious steps towards a world government.
But let us not get carried away. While it seems feasible that some sort of world government might emerge over the next century, any push for "global governance" in the here and now will be a painful, slow process.
There are good and bad reasons for this. The bad reason is a lack of will and determination on the part of national, political leaders who – while they might like to talk about "a planet in peril" – are ultimately still much more focused on their next election, at home.
But this "problem" also hints at a more welcome reason why making progress on global governance will be slow sledding. Even in the EU – the heartland of law-based international government – the idea remains unpopular. The EU has suffered a series of humiliating defeats in referendums, when plans for "ever closer union" have been referred to the voters. In general, the Union has progressed fastest when far-reaching deals have been agreed by technocrats and politicians – and then pushed through without direct reference to the voters. International governance tends to be effective, only when it is anti-democratic.
The world's most pressing political problems may indeed be international in nature, but the average citizen's political identity remains stubbornly local. Until somebody cracks this problem, that plan for world government may have to stay locked away in a safe at the UN.
Other top commanders and group members were expected to be arrested late on Monday in military raids on the town of Muredkey, where Jamaatut Dawa (formerly Lashkar-e-Toiba) has its headquarters, as well as Sheikhupura, Faisalabad and other important cities.
On Sunday, a military helicopter gunship attacked the group's headquarters in Shawai Nullah outside the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, Muzaffarabad. The army overwhelmed the militants after 90 minutes and several were arrested.
Lakhwi was not arrested in the Shawai operation but in another, undisclosed location, at the request of security agencies. He is to be interrogated by a joint team of agents from the FBI and Pakistan's spy agency ISI.
An ISI team on Sunday also visited Jamaatut Dawa's provincial headquarters in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi. ISI officials questioned Jamaatut Dawa staff but did not carry out any search operations.
Islamabad has denied any role in the Mumbai attacks which left at least 170 people dead. But some of the gunmen are said to have had links to Pakistani militants.
Indian investigators have said that the only gunman captured in Mumbai, Azam Amir Qasab, told them he had been recruited by Lashkar-e-Toiba, and trained at a camp run by the group.
Although Pakistan formally banned Lashkar-e-Toiba after Al-Qaeda's 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States and curbed the group's activities, its camps were never closed, according to analysts.
Pakistan: We're ready for war with India
Pakistan warned it is ready for war with India if it is attacked following the strike by the Mumbai terrorists.
The remarks by Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who also insisted he would not hand over any suspects in the Mumbai attacks, come amid mounting tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
India has said it is keeping all options open following last month's carnage by the Mumbai terrorists, who killed more than 170 people.
"We do not want to impose war, but we are fully prepared in case war is imposed on us," said Mr Qureshi.
"We are not oblivious to our responsibilities to defend our homeland. But it is our desire that there should be no war."
Indian officials say the hardline Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group, which is based in Pakistan despite being banned by the government, is behind the bloodshed, and Indian media have suggested there could be Indian strikes on militant camps.
Mr Qureshi said he was sending "a very clear message" that his country did not want conflict with India.
"We want friendship, we want peace and we want stability - but our desire for peace should not be considered Pakistan's weakness."
The minister also said that India's demands for the extradition of suspects in the Mumbai attacks were out of the question and that Pakistan, which has arrested 16 people since Saturday, would keep them on home soil.
"The arrests are being made for our own investigations. Even if allegations are proved against any suspect, he will not be handed over to India," Qureshi said. "We will proceed against those arrested under Pakistani laws."
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain and nearly came to a fourth in 2001 after an attack on the Indian parliament that was blamed on LeT.
Under international pressure to act, Pakistan raided a camp run by a charity, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, that many believe has close links to LeT, and arrested 15 people.
The authorities are questioning Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, who was among those arrested at the weekend.
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