Fears Google Street View could be used to plan attacks
A VICTIMS campaigner says dissident republicans could use a new Google Street View feature to plan attacks in the Londonderry area.
William Frazer of Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR) said the feature, which now allows internet users to view high resolution pictures of streets in Londonderry, could be used for evil purposes by anti-agreement republicans.
Last week when Google announced that Downhill Demesne was to be added to Street View, the service went live in Londonderry as well when photographs of the A6 as far as the Altnagelvin roundabout were also uploaded automatically.
Fears have been raised before that the feature might be used by republicans to gather information and carry out reconnaissance on potential targets.
And a concerned Sentinel reader - who asked not to be named - saidthat would-be terrorists are now able to study escape and approach routes to police stations in Londonderry and Dungiven online.
The reader also suggested the service could easily be used by criminals such as the infamous "Hole-In-The-Wall-Gang" who were responsible for carrying out a spate of robberies at remote ATM machines last year.
Mr Frazer said that to allow high resolution images of police stations to remain online would be madness.
"It certainly seems like madness that this can be done online," said Mr Frazer. "No better way to case out a target, without even having to be there. Totally unbelievable. It warrants bringing this up with the security minister to see if they can be removed from Google," he said.
These concerns have also been raised from as far afield as California and Mumbai with security agencies and lawmakers believing internet services such as Google Street View and Google Earth could be of use to terrorists.
Complaints by members of the public stemming from privacy concerns over the Street View images have also resulted in parts of cities in the United Kingdom being "blacked out" by the search engine.
But Public Affairs manager at Google Laura Scott said that whilst she understood the reasons for these concerns the firm had consulted with the PSNI and it was confident the service would not increase the risk of terrorism.
"The imagery available on Street View is no different from what people can see when walking down the street themselves or when viewing images which are already widely available on a number of real estate and directory sites," said MsScott.
"When we have spoken to the police they've told us that they have seen no evidence that Street View could lead to a rise in crime. Indeed some believe that mapping can be useful in raising awareness locally about crime and helping people take action to prevent it," she added.
"And of course we think that the vast majority of people In Northern Ireland and elsewhere will find Street View an ever more useful tool - whether it's to explore their own city in more detail, take a virtual fieldtrip or learn more about local history by exploring the recently added sites of Hezlett House and Mount Stewart House in Northern Ireland, which Google announced last week in collaboration with the National Trust," she continued.
A spokesperson for the PSNI in Londonderry commented: "What is presented on Google maps is the same as what anyone would see if they walked past or drove past a police station."
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