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Botswana readies for Google Streetview

By John Churu, Gaborone, Botswana

Following meetings by a government stakeholder’s task team in March 2011 to vet Google’s request to expand its Streetview service to Botswana, the country is set to be the second country in Africa to have Google Streetview.

Jeff Ramsay, the government of Botswana spokesperson told a media briefing that all was in place to get the project off the ground. “This event has been set up as an opportunity for you to directly interact with Google about their project. In this context BGCIS, together with our friends at Hotwire, is acting as a communications facilitator,” said Ramsay.

He explained that; in this project, “Government's role goes further as a regulator, monitor as well as potential facilitator of the project.”

“Google Streetview is of course a private company initiative; this should not be misconstrued as a Government Project. In this respect Google has been in discussions with Government Stakeholders for just over a year now.

In March 2011 a representative task team of Government Stakeholders was established to vet Google's request to expand its Streetview service to Botswana. While Google Streetview is now available in many countries - especially in Europe, North and South America, East Asia, Russia and in our own region - that is Africa - it is currently confined to the Republic of South Africa,” Ramsay said.

Should the project go ahead, Botswana would thus be the second country on the continent to be served by Streetview.

He continued that, “from the beginning of our own consultations, we have been well aware of both the potential advantages and risks of allowing Streetview to proceed in our country.

The application has obvious potential benefits as a tool for marketing our country, more especially our tourism sector and associated services. It also has additional benefits of allowing Batswana as well as outsiders view online some of our public places. As such it can become a valuable educational as well as marketing tool.”

He went on to say that the government was wary about the side effects of bringing Google Streetview into the country. “We have not been unmindful, however, of concerns about the application. In this respect we have investigated Google Streetview's international track record as well as considered it potential risks to our own country.

In this context it was only in August of last year that we were able to give conditional consent for the initiative. This consent was subject to various enforceable assurances with respect to protecting public privacy and security concerns as part of an overall implementation plan.”

Ramsay assured the press that although the implementation plan was still in its infancy, they have a basic understating of what Google’s intentions were. “Here I wish to emphasise that the implementation plan has not as yet been finalized, although we have a basic understanding of its necessary components, which must, among other things, include:

. That filming restricted to public places unless permission from private owners has been obtained.

. That there shall be no filming of restricted areas, which shall be determined by responsible authorities. In this respect we shall exercise final say on what can be viewed.

. That there be measure in place to protect of individual identities- Dr. Taylor I trust will go into some of the details of how this can be implemented  to insure for example that faces and licence plates are blurred.

. That Copyright shall be upheld where applicable along with all other Laws of Botswana.

. That there shall be a proactive campaign of public awareness on the part of Batswana.

The latter prerequisite is what brings us together here today, as a beginning because we appreciate the fact that building necessary awareness is a process and not just an event.

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