Israel is the next country to allow Google Street View to map its roadways, although not without concerns. Even before the funny-looking vehicles hit the streets of Israel, they've been in for a bumpy ride. Since being approached about a year ago, Israeli authorities mulled over the various defense, legal and privacy issues, and even opened the topic to public discussion on an open government platform.
Since launching the service in 2007, Google Street View has stirred controversy, mostly over privacy concerns, as the service recorded people's faces, license plates and captured them in compromising situations. After the service was found to collect personal data while mapping out wireless networks, Google was forced to apologize, saying it was a mistake. A number of countries have imposed conditions for continuing running the project, and last year Israel was among 10 governments that sent Google a letter demanding better enforcement of privacy regulations.
Even without being caught with their pants down, many resent the potential invasion of their privacy, although they probably enjoy the many practical aspects of the service that has put the world at everyone's fingertips. When the subject came up, a blog titled "The big invasion of your privacy has begun" offered Israelis tips on how to handle the "threat," including mooning cameras (as done in Germany) and harpooning a vehicle (as in Norway).
Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem -- reportedly the first city to be photographed and mapped -- are likely to do neither, of course, although the sometimes-insular community that often protects itself fiercely from prying eyes is not going to like going global and might put up a fight, according to local media.
In the past, Israel has voiced security concerns as secret bases and other sensitive installations were brought out of the shadows, thanks to Google Earth. A few years ago, military experts complained that the service compromised top-secret sites with images that were a boon to terrorists. Other experts dismissed this, saying the images were neither real-time, not otherwise unobtainable, or posed no genuine threat.
Being "outed" by technology is a two-way street. Last year, reports claimed Google Earth revealed a denied Scud missile cache, the subject of potentially dangerous regional tensions. Satellite imgaery of Israel is restricted and intentionally downgraded in resolution by American-based commercial satellite companies, in compliance with the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act from the late 1990s. Russia, too, degrades its imagery of Israel.
Israel's approval comes with conditions. The Justice Ministry's Law, Information and Technology authority gave its consent on a number of terms, including advance publishing of the route the cameras will take when photographing public places and providing a mechanism for people to ask their faces, license plates and homes to be blurred after uploading if this isn't done automatically. There are also legal conditions obliging adherence to Israeli law in case of legal proceedings.
While apprehension continues regarding risks to security and privacy, some see this as an opportunity. Political activists plan to use the service to promote demonstrations against the occupation, according to a news report that says a Facebook group will work on coordinating the demonstrations with the vehicles' routes, which Google promised to make known in advance.
-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem.
Photo: Google Maps camera car in California in 2010. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.