A civil liberties lawyer says New Zealanders have a reason to be concerned that tech giants Google and Apple are using "spy planes" to capture the next generation of online mapping.

The global companies are both preparing to launch new maps this year with enough detail to clearly show objects only 10 centimetres wide.

Critics have described the move as using "spy planes" with Apple's military-grade cameras reportedly powerful enough to potentially see into homes through skylights and windows.

Auckland civil liberties lawyer Tim McBride says more people should be concerned about the technology encroaching on personal privacy.


However, Mr McBride said many New Zealanders were becoming desensitised to the intrusion on their lives.

"I think people have got so used to ever-increasing privacy invasion that they've almost become desensitised," he said. "They think: what can we do?"

Google has sent planes to capture pictures in a higher resolution than has previously been used by either satellite images or car-mounted cameras.

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, told Britain's Daily Mail that privacy risked being sacrificed in a commercial "race to the bottom".

"The next generation of maps is taking us over the garden fence. You won't be able to sunbathe in your garden without worrying about an Apple or Google plane buzzing overhead taking pictures."

Google has not revealed which cities and towns will be covered by 3D imagery, which it expects to release at the end of the year. The locations will reportedly have a combined population of 300 million.

Mr McBride said new technologies were developing too quickly for laws to keep up.

"I just get a sense that people are just overwhelmed by what technology offers and part of them are sort of fascinated by it.

"I think (new mapping technology) is something that people should be really concerned about, not just for privacy of information but for physical privacy as well."

Tech Liberty NZ spokesman Thomas Beagle said he didn't believe there would be much advancement from the satellite imagery already used.

"There's quite a lot of information out there already," he said.

Mr Beagle said most people probably would not be threatened by the new mapping technology, especially considering Google had made concerted efforts in the past to blur faces of people and car number plates.

"I don't think people should be overly concerned. It's going to be important that they have taken the same approach they've taken with the street view and I would expect them to make the same effort."

New Zealand Council of Civil Liberties spokesman Kevin McCormack said he expected Google and Apple to provide "express public notification" of the details of where they were to be using the new mapping technology.

"Without public notification this kind of activity is an intrusion into the privacy of individuals, made worse by the fact that it is carried out under a veil of secrecy where there is neither knowledge nor awareness on the part of the public of any of the relevant details," he said.