Google Earth allows users to see satellite and aerial images of locations they choose from an online map. But is it exposing too much? The governments of India, Thailand, South Korea, and Russia have all expressed concern about the availability of aerial imagery to terrorists. Even the United States government has outlawed the distribution of high-resolution images of Israel and reserves the right to limit the distribution of images of other areas in the interests of national security.
But proponents of Google Earth point out that the service is not providing any images that weren’t previously available and isn’t providing anything that’s not currently available from many sources. Google’s high profile is simply drawing attention to material that has long been available to those who want it.
John Pike is the director of Globalsecurity.org and has been dealing with the sensitivity of maps and images in relation to national security since before Google Earth came along.
Last year, Mr. Pike said, he was asked by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, an arm of the Defense Department, to remove from his site some of the maps of cities in Iraq that the Coalition Provisional Authority had created for planning cellphone service. Mr. Pike said he had complied, but added that the incident was a classic example of the futility of trying to control information. “To think that the same information couldn’t be found elsewhere was not a very safe assumption,” he said.
In addition, the images are not in real time, making them fairly ineffective for those who want to use them to plan any kind of attack:
Vipin Gupta, a security analyst at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, said the time delays were crucial, saying that in the national security sphere much can change between the time an image is taken and when it is used by the public. “You can get imagery to determine whether there is a military base or airfield, but if you want to count aircraft, or determine whether there are troops there at a particular time, it is very difficult to do,” Mr. Gupta said. “It’s not video.”
Read Governments Tremble at Google’s Bird’s-Eye View at NYTimes.com.