Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) sent an open letter to Apple and Google to demonstrate their commitment to privacy and security as both companies work on unprecedented aerial views in their mobile mapping services. Senator Schumer asked both companies to provide prior notification to local residents when their “military-grade spy planes” are capturing images in the U.S.
Senator Charles Schumer
Apple announced a new mapping service on June 11th during the company’s annual World Wide Developer Conference. That service includes impressive 3D aerial views the company has been developing.
Knowing that Apple’s announcement was coming, Google announced the week before its own enhancements to Google Maps, one of the world’s most popular map services. Among the new features announced by the search giant are impressive 3D aerial views the company has been developing.
That’s where Senator Schumer’s concerns enter the picture. Citing reports that the companies will be able to capture images with resolutions as small as 4 inches, he said that they could capture people sunbathing or engaging in other private activities in their back yards.
“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,” Senator Schumer wrote. “They should not fear that your planes will be overhead taking detailed pictures of their private events.”
The senator didn’t use the phrase “military-grade spy plane” in the actual letter (reprinted in full below), but did so several times in presenting the letter on his official U.S. Senate website. Similarly, he likened the planes to “high-tech peeping Toms,” in his statement, though he avoided that language in the letter.
He asked Apple and Google to notify communities ahead of mapping operations, to automatically blur images of people captured, to give property owners the right to opt-out of having their property included in the results, and to work with law enforcement and local governments to ensure that security concerns are met.
The open letter in full:
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.