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Google Neighborhoods and Logical Security

Recently, we’ve had some discussions here about the potential dangers of the virtual world. Considering the amount of attention being paid these days to security in general, and specifically to infrastructure security, the Pentagon’s reaction when it came in direct contact with the blending of the virtual and live world is not surprising. Specifically, last week when the Defense Department learned that Google had captured “Street View” images of Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio Texas, they banned Google Neighborhoods from their “neighborhoods.”

It is clearly one thing for this virtual tour capability to be used for people looking for landmarks as they plan a trip, or for it to be used in the real estate business (its nice to be able to see what my house looks like on the street where I live, especially for people who might be in the market to buy it from me), and yet another when it comes to putting virtual tours of a military base (or other critical infrastructure) onto the Internet.

In pursuing its mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," Google inadvertently ran afoul of the military's mission to maintain security for its personnel and sites.

The DOD took action when Street View images of Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, appeared on Google Maps. Google introduced Google Maps Street View images for San Antonio in February.

Google removed the pictures at the request of the military. Fort Sam Houston is not open to the public.

The Street View feature allows users to zoom in on 360-degree, ground-level views of neighborhoods, landmarks and other places that Google photographs from vehicles with roof-mounted cameras.

Okay. Google says that it is their policy to stay on public streets and that the driver violated their rules. But did anyone stop to think before they permitted the Google vehicle onto the base?

A person familiar with the matter at Fort Sam Houston said a base official twice granted Google access, but only after he was assured that Google would not videotape or photograph the historic base, which serves as a medical-training and support post. The official had believed an online map would be useful to guide visitors.

Technology is changing more rapidly than ever before. With these light speed changes in technology comes the need for public, private and government security professionals to be more aware of the implications. Frankly, why Ft. Sam allowed Google onto the base in the first place is a big question.

As an "after thought," also not surprisingly, there are some who actually think that the Pentagon's action in some odd way reduces our freedoms. Fort Sam is a military base. What's the question?