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​India Rejects Google Street View Over National Security Concerns

Officials said Google Maps was used to orchestrate terror attacks in the country earlier this year.

by Daniel Oberhaus
Jun 11 2016, 4:26pm

Image: Google Maps

After several months of delay, India's Ministry of Home Affairs rejected Google's request to expand its Street View service in the country on Friday. The rejection came after India's Ministry of Defense raised concerns that the expansion of the service in the country could be a threat to national security.

As its name suggests, Street View allows for 360-degree on-the-ground panoramas in Google Maps and has been taken to some of the most remote regions on Earth, like Antarctica and Mount Everest. In 2011, Google received the go-ahead to map major Indian heritage sites like the Taj Mahal in conjunction with the Archaeological Society of India. Google Maps shows dozens of individual locations with street view enabled in cities like New Delhi and Mumbai, but the service is far from ubiquitous in these mega-cities.

"The main concern [in rejecting Street View] was security of sensitive defense installations," an anonymous senior government official told The Hindu, one of the country's largest newspapers. "The Defense Ministry said it was not possible to monitor the service once it was launched and it would be detrimental to national security."

Image: Daniel Oberhaus

According to The Hindu, Google's Street View proposal may have been rejected by the Defense Ministry as early as February, which cited concerns that Google Maps had been used to orchestrate a terrorist attack on India's Pathankot airbase the month prior. Similar concerns that Google Earth was used to orchestrate the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai have also been cited as possible grounds for the rejection.

The rejection of the Street View is more than likely a temporary measure as India debates a controversial internet regulation bill that was uploaded for public comment last month. Known as the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, the proposed legislation would place greater restrictions on the acquisition and publication of geospatial information about the country, like maps and satellite imagery.

Should the bill pass, it would mean companies like Google and Uber would have to file an application and pay fees to the Indian government to retain the ability to continue to use maps and other forms of geospatial data related to India.

Lucknow, India. Image: Daniel Oberhaus

In 2015, Google was expected to get permission to do a trial run of Street View in Hyderabad, making it the first city to be entirely mapped in India. This plan never came to fruition however, a frustration for both Google and Indian officials who claim the service could be used for everything from tourism and disaster management to monitoring for building code violations by the city.

The last few months have been marked by major upsets for American tech giants in India, which has also rejected Facebook's Free Basics program and Apple's initiative to sell refurbished iPhones. With 1.2 billion citizens—most of whom aren't connected to the internet, but nevertheless comprise the second largest smartphone market in the world—India is seen as an untapped gold mine for Western tech companies like Google and Facebook, who are fighting tooth and nail to be the first one to get a foothold in the country.

Google's upset may only be temporary however, as Minister of the Interior Kiren Rijiju said Friday's rejection is expected to be overturned later this year after the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill is finalized.