The democraticization of information:
When Google introduced Google Earth, free software that marries satellite and aerial images with mapping capabilities, the company emphasized its usefulness as a teaching and navigation tool, while advertising the pure entertainment value of high-resolution flyover images of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and the pyramids.
But since its debut last summer, Google Earth has received attention of an unexpected sort. Officials of several nations have expressed alarm over its detailed display of government buildings, military installations and other important sites within their borders.
India, whose laws sharply restrict satellite and aerial photography, has been particularly outspoken. ''It could severely compromise a country's security,'' V. S. Ramamurthy, secretary in India's federal Department of Science and Technology, said of Google Earth. And India's surveyor general, Maj. Gen. M. Gopal Rao, said, ''They ought to have asked us.''
Similar sentiments have surfaced in news reports from other countries. South Korean officials have said they fear that Google Earth lays bare details of military installations. Thai security officials said they intended to ask Google to block images of vulnerable government buildings. And Lt. Gen. Leonid Sazhin, an analyst for the Federal Security Service, the Russian security agency that succeeded the K.G.B., was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying: ''Terrorists don't need to reconnoiter their target. Now an American company is working for them.''
But there is little they can do, it seems, but protest.