FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 18, 2012
SCHUMER: NEW APPLE AND GOOGLE PLANS TO USE MILITARY-GRADE SPY PLANES TO MAP COMMUNITIES AND PUBLISH IMAGES COULD CAUSE UNPRECEDENTED INVASION OF PRIVACY; TECHNOLOGY STRONG ENOUGH TO SEE THROUGH WINDOWS AND EVEN CATCH SUN BATHERS IN BACK YARDS
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today 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,” said 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. 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.”
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 – enough to see through windows in homes, capture individuals in their backyards, and reveal details of sensitive security locations. Google plans to have three-dimensional maps of areas covering the residences of over 300 million people by the end of this year and to offer maps with a greater level of detail than their current maps.
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. 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,” said Schumer.
In addition detailed photographs could also provide criminals and terrorists with detailed views of sensitive utilities. 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. 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.
“We must strike the proper balance between privacy and technology,” continued Schumer. “And while the use of this technology may well have very functional and important uses, we need to make sure that reasonable protections are in place to protect individuals and the public.”
Attached is a copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to Tim Cook, Apple’s Chief Executive Officer, and Larry Page, Google’s Chief Executive Officer:
Dear Apple and Google,
I write today over the recent revelations that your companies are using highly sensitive photography equipment to take pictures of cities and towns across the country for your respective mapping products. These disclosures are potentially troubling, and I request that the privacy and security of Americans remain your top priority as you deploy new mapping and imaging capability.
It has been reported that some of these sensitive cameras can take pictures of objects up to four inches wide. I fear that this clarity may allow your mapping programs to take detailed pictures of people in intimate locations such as around a pool or in someone’s backyard. People on Long Island or in Buffalo have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they decide to have a barbeque on their back deck and would prefer to retain the option of deciding whether they should be photographed on their property. They should not fear that your planes will be overhead taking detailed pictures of their private events.
Detailed photographs could also provide criminals and terrorists with detailed views of sensitive utilities. On current online maps, many power lines, power sub stations, and reservoir access points are visible only at low resolutions. However, if highly detailed images become available, criminals could create more complete schematic maps of the power and water grids in the United States. With the vast amount of infrastructure across the country, it would be impossible to secure every location.
Therefore, I request that your mapping programs include three separate privacy and security provisions:
1) Provide notification to communities as to when you plan to conduct mapping
2) Automatically blur photos of individuals who are captured, and give property owners the right to opt-out of having the company map their homes
3) Put protocols in place with law enforcement and local municipalities to ensure that sensitive infrastructure details are blurred from published maps
I hope that you would be willing to work with my office on this very important issue and ensure the security and privacy of all Americans.