Google Street View causes stir in Botswana

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Opposition paper in Botswana, the second African nation to get Street View, says images of military bases compromise security

In cities around the world it has provoked grumbles about invasion of privacy and jeopardising national security – and has caught unsuspecting members of the public with their pants down. So when Google’s Street View cameras came to Botswana, a country of 2 million people and 70% covered by the Kalahari desert, the company might have expected to avoid such controversy. Not so.

“We feel such places as the military base and the office of the president, the American embassy and any other such high-security areas should not have been allowed to be published,” the Monitor newspaper opined in an editorial on Monday. “This compromises our security.”

It went on: “What is also amazing is that prior to the shooting of the map, there was assurance that residential areas would be left out … but now these are in the Google map.”

Government officials moved to dismiss the complaints as a storm in a teacup in an opposition-owned newspaper. Spokesman Jeff Ramsay said: “We don’t have an issue at all. We had an internal debate because we recognise there are sensitivities but we are an open society.

“Google were working with our security people on a checklist of what to photograph and what not to photograph. If anything falls between the cracks, our people have a right to remove it.”

He added: “Some reporters get Street View confused with Google Earth, which shows all sorts of things that we can’t do anything about.”

Google says it applies face-blurring and licence plate blurring to protect people’s privacy in Street View. Once images are available, users can report images for removal by clicking on “report a problem” on the bottom left hand corner of the image.

Botswana is the second African country to be featured after its neighbour South Africa just before the 2010 football World Cup. Google deployed 4×4 vehicles to photograph difficult off-road areas.

The company said users could virtually explore the Kalahari and the world’s biggest inland river delta – the 16,000 sq km Okavango – as well as the Makgadikgadi Pan and Chobe National Park, home to the biggest concentration of African elephants in the world.

The service, offering panoramic street-level images, is available in more than 30 countries. “We hope to add more cultures, landscapes and sites as Street View continues to expand to new places,” said Ory Okolloh, policy manager for Google Sub-Saharan Africa. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds