U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer has raised concerns over Apple’s and Google’s reported digital mapping plans that use military-grade spy planes with enough precision to see through windows, catch detailed images of private backyard activities, and record images as small as four inches.
In a letter to the companies, Schumer called for Apple and Google to put measures in place that require prior notification of mapping, blurs photos of individuals, gives property owners the ability to opt out from mapping of their homes, and that requires coordination with law enforcement to blur our sensitive infrastructure details.
While programs like Google Maps and Google Earth have provided satellite imagery in the past, the level of precision that is reported to be obtained with these newly employed technologies, and potentially made available to the public, is unprecedented. Schumer is asking for both companies to more fully explain the safeguards they intend to put in place to protect privacy needs and security.
“Barbequing or sunbathing in your backyard shouldn’t be a public event. People should be free from the worry of some high-tech peeping Tom technology violating one’s privacy when in your own home,” says Schumer. “High resolution 3D mapping may have some very useful and practical applications, but the technology that is reported to be used by these companies brings a level of precision that has never before been utilized for public purposes. It raises important privacy questions and individuals have a right to know when their homes and communities are being mapped — and whether highly detailed images of them and their homes will wind up published online.”
By using powerful cameras that can see through your windows and display details of sensitive security sites, Apple and Google will have access to private and sensitive images, he adds. “It’s imperative that these companies disclose their plans for protecting privacy of both individuals and sensitive infrastructure, their publication intentions, and their plans for including public consent in the mapping process,” says Schumer.
In the last two weeks, Apple and Google each unveiled competing software applications that will display maps for the first time in three dimensions with an unprecedented level of detail. In order to create extremely detailed, 3D maps, reports have suggested that Apple and Google are using planes equipped with military-grade photographic equipment that can capture detailed images of objects as small as four inches. Schumer raised concern that a race to develop the most comprehensive and precise mapping technology could have the consequence of eroding basic privacy expectations and creating security risks.
“By taking detailed pictures of individuals in intimate locations such as around a pool, or in their backyard, or even through their windows, these programs have the potential to put private images on public display,” he says. “We need to hit the pause button here and figure out what is happening and how we can best protect peoples’ privacy, without unduly impeding technological advancement.”
In addition detailed photographs could also provide criminals and terrorists with detailed views of sensitive utilities, according to Schumer. On current online maps, many power lines, power sub stations, and reservoir access points are not very visible due to the reduced resolution currently used. However, if highly detailed images become available, criminals could create more complete schematic maps of the power and water grids in the United States, according to the senator. With the vast amount of infrastructure across the country, it would be impossible to secure every location.
In order to protect individuals’ personal privacy and sensitive infrastructure sites, Schumer called on Apple and Google to fully disclose what privacy protection plans and safeguards they intend to put in place for the highly detailed and precise images they will be able to capture with the new use of this technology.
Additionally, Schumer is calling on the companies to: 1. provide notification to communities as to when they plan to conduct mapping; 2. commit to blurring out photos of individuals who are captured in the images, give property owners the right to opt-out of having the company map their homes and; 3. put protocols in place with law enforcement to ensure that sensitive infrastructure details are blurred from published maps.