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Two PILs look to tech to rescue Mumbai

December 15, 2008 09:36 IST

Two public interest litigations have been filed in the Bombay high court, following the terrorist attacks in Mumbai - one by Mumbai-based lawyer Amit Karkhanis seeking a ban on Google Earth, a technology application which gives access to 'sensitive' Indian defence and civilian establishments, and the other filed by Ficci IT cell chairman Vijay Mukhi, which includes a 12-point Rs 50-crore plan on how the government can save India from terror attacks with the help of technology.

Mukhi's PIL (which has Sarla S Parekh, mother of Sunil and mother-in-law of his wife Reshma who lost their lives in the Mumbai attack, as the co-petitioner) states: "...the present security capabilities of the state machinery are inadequate to anticipate, prevent and mitigate such attacks and there is an urgent need to introduce fresh technology and upgrade the existing technology".

It has, therefore, recommended a Rs 50-crore, 12-point plan for the use of surveillance technology (see box) to avoid such attacks in the future.

"The purpose of giving the costing herein is to pre-empt being faced with an answer that all the suggestions below are too expensive and that there isn't a budget available...(and that with this budget, Mumbai could) set up state-of-the-art e-security software, equipment and personnel. Out of this, some expense would be an annual expense and some would be useful beyond Mumbai...," states the petition.

On the other hand, the PIL filed by Karkhanis asks for a ban on Google Earth or at least that vital installations be blocked out.

The irony of the approaches to technology by the two well-intentioned petitions has not been lost on observers. "If you ban Google Earth, why not ban MapQuest too," asked an Internet security expert who did not wish to be named.

Moreover, there is not only Google Earth or MapQuest but hundreds of such offerings in the market, not to forget the global positioning system devices which can perform these tasks with ease and more efficiency than even Google Earth.

"Are we going to ban all these too?" Experts point out that such PILs could only harm the interests of Indians since terrorists could anyway access Google Earth from other countries.

A Google spokesperson said: "We are yet to receive a copy of the petition, hence cannot comment on the specifics."

The spokesperson, however, added that "...Google strongly condemns acts of terrorism and violence. Tools such as Google Earth are built from information that is already available from both commercial and public sources, and it is important to remember that the same information is available to anyone who purchases imagery from those public sources.

In India, Google Earth has been used for flood relief in Gujarat, Tsunami relief and rehabilitation in southern India and earthquake relief in Kashmir. We believe that the benefits of access to tools such as Google Earth for such valuable purposes far outweigh any negatives from potential misuse. Google is always willing to discuss relevant issues with public agencies and officials."

The Bombay Technology Club, which has seasoned industry professionals as its members, such as Zenith Computers Chairman Raj Saraf, Hexaware Technologies Chairman Atul Nishar, Infrasoft Technologies CEO Hanuman Tripathi and Adino Group Chairman Nanik Rupani, said it "strongly approves of the (Mukhi's) PIL".

"We need to use large doses of technology not only to gather intelligence but also to collect evidence that can be used in courts to convict the terrorists and also convince the world of the country that they come from. We would encourage others to file PILs that specify specific steps that the government should take which are doable and practical," the BTC urged in a statement.

Leslie D' Monte in New Delhi