California legislator seeks to limit photos on Google Maps

SACRAMENTO — California has a new idea for thwarting terrorism: Attackers might not hit what they can't see.

Assemblyman Joel Anderson is pushing to ban online mapping services from publishing clear photos of key buildings used by the public — but fuzzy images would be fine.

"All I'm asking is that they reduce the level of detail," he said. "They can either smear it or back (the camera) off."

America's enemies benefit from detailed aerial, satellite and street-view images of schools, churches, hospitals and government buildings, Anderson contends.

Terrorists have push-button access to minute details of the buildings' exits, windows, facades, access routes – even rooftop vents, he said.

The Alpine Republican points to news reports that terrorists who attacked various locations in Mumbai, India, last year used digital maps and other high-technology equipment.

"We should not be helping bad people map their next target," Anderson said.

Violators of Anderson's legislation, Assembly Bill 255, could face fines of $250,000 per day and prison terms of up to three years.

Critics dismiss the bill as a feel-good measure that would not stop terrorists and could prompt all 50 states to adopt differing standards on mapping browsers.

Assemblyman Paul Krekorian, D-Burbank, called the legislation a "fairly superficial response."

"I don't see that it's going to contribute a lot to the global war on terrorism if we prohibit al-Qaida from using Google in California," Krekorian said.

Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, an Irvine Republican and former military intelligence officer, said the bill could open a Pandora's box.

"My concern is, what's next?" DeVore said. "Do politicians then demand that we blur out images of the homes of law enforcement personnel – or elected officials?"

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state homeland security officials have taken no position on AB 255, which has not yet been debated in legislative committees.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security declined substantive comment Tuesday but said it has not expressed security concerns to Google.

Google, a kingpin of online mapping, contends that AB 255 may violate free-speech rights and impair interstate commerce.

Microsoft Corp., which also provides an online mapping service, declined comment on AB 255.

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