Days after the terror strike at Pathankot airbase, Google’s online maps showing Indian defence installations, nuclear power plants and other “sensitive” locations today came under the scanner of Delhi High Court which asked the Centre to look into it and keep it informed on the issue.
A bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath asked Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain to “look into the matter and apprise us about the procedure being followed”.
The court, however, refused to pass any interim order restraining Google from publishing any such maps till the next date of hearing on February 24.
The petitioner, Lokesh Kumar Sharma, has sought directions to the Centre “to restrain Google from showing, providing and making available maps and images of sensitive installations and defense establishments”.
The petition, filed through advocate C Mohan Rao, has alleged that the government and its authorities “appear to be absolutely negligent and callous in preventing Google from displaying such maps”.
“The respondent No.2 (Google) has put up very detailed high resolution images of Pathankot Air Base and surrounding areas on Google Earth and Google Maps.
“However, there seems to be no opposition or objection from any quarter to the display of images of Pathankot air base on Google Maps and Google Earth,” it has alleged.
In his petition, Sharma has alleged that Google “in the garb of a competition-Mapathon-induced the general public to give information regarding maps and images including sensitive installations”.
“One Vishal Saini who had mapped Pathankot and its surroundings including the Air force station at Pathankot, was adjudged and ranked No.1 in Mapathon 2013. Respondent No.2 (Google) conducts Mapathon every year,” the petition claimed.
Referring to the January 2 terror attack on Pathankot Air force station, Sharma, a lawyer, has contended that Google “has no right to provide or make available maps and images of sensitive installations” as it would “adversely undermine the security of the nation”.
The petitioner has claimed that Google only shows older locations of defence installations of developed nations like USA and in the case of China, all such sites are “masked”.
Sharma has said in his plea that in 2015 former Indian President A P J Abdul Kalam had warned of serious consequences of Google providing maps and images of sensitive installations in view of growing threats from terrorism.
It also claimed that Google was well aware of the serious consequences of providing images and maps of sensitive locations, but was not doing anything to mask such sites.
“The maps and images provide minute details regarding sensitive installations and surrounding areas showing in detail roads, streets, lanes, waterways, streams, canals, sewage lines, buildings etc with precise dimensions including the distance, length, width and height of buildings, walls, towers and everything in and around the sensitive installations and defence establishments.
“The amount of information loaded in each map and image is directly proportional to the damage it poses and in the wrong hands, the damage such an information would cause, cannot be under-estimated,” the petition has contended.
“The moment the cursor is pointed to China clear images immediately turn cloudy and entire China mysteriously gets cloud ridden with hardly any observable geo-physical feature. China is said to have more than four air bases in Tibet bordering India.
“The respondent No.2 (Google), however, did not show a single (Chinese) air base in Tibet. On the other hand, Indian Air Force Stations in the North East are shown with minute details of the air bases,” the petition has also alleged.
The petitioner has prayed the court to “pass an appropriate writ, order or direction, directing respondent No.1 (Centre) to restrain respondent No.2 (Google) and/or restrain the respondents from showing, providing and making available maps, images or sensitive installations and defence establishments on Google Earth, Google Maps or any other App or Apps in any form whatsoever.”