for National Geographic News
Part of the Digital Places Special News Series
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Detailed Google Earth images of British military bases were found in the homes of Iraqi insurgents, a London newspaper reported in January.
A British army official told the Daily Telegraph that the confiscated images showed Land Rovers, buildings, tents, and bathroom facilities inside the military compound in Basra, Iraq.
British officials reportedly complained to California-based Google, and the software firm replaced the images with pre-war data on its downloadable globe.
While the extent of insurgents' use of Google Earth is unknown, the news underscored what some experts see as a growing conflict between national security needs and the software's high-resolution, satellite view of the planet.
Ram Jakhu, a law professor at McGill University in Canada, called the move a "justified reaction, given that the issue of national security is of paramount importance."
Governments should have laws supporting freedom of information, including the right to snap and disseminate photos, he said. But there are limits.
"Google shouldn't spy for terrorists," Jakhu said.
Neither Google nor British military officials responded to interview requests.
Google Earth is made up of declassified satellite and aerial images that are stitched together to give users a 3-D view of the planet.
For many locations the images have a resolution as fine as 49 feet (15 meters) per pixel—enough to see individual streets, distinguish buildings, and even make out the color of automobiles.
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