Google Earth, not the real enemy
Today, Google Earth and other similar online 3D geobrowsers allow the public to become “amateur spies”. From the tip of our mouse, we can zoom into our neighbor’s back yard or even descend upon Pearl Harbor and observe the US fleet. By allowing anyone with a laptop and a wi-fi connection to view fairly detailed satellite and aerial imagery of just about anywhere on the globe, Google Earth and the other user friendly geobrowsers have revolutionized reconnaissance at the level of the individual. Only several decades ago, the militaries and spy agencies of the World would have done anything to keep such software far away from the public and from each other. In the words of Colonel James Brown, “who heads force protection and mission assurance at U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs” Google Earth “is the best preoperational surveillance tool [he’s] ever seen in [his] life”(Weinberger, 2008). One can’t help but to ask, why is this still legal?
Several governments including the US have come to see a certain risk in having aerial and satellite imagery of their national territory available for everyone to see. The Indian Government has blamed Google Earth in aiding terrorist’s carry out the Mumbai attack in 2008. China has also used the national security card to try to cover up sensitive imagery of prisons. Many agree that the fundamental problem with the geobrowser is that it has “absolutely no control to prevent misuse or limit access” (Rhys Blakely, 2008, paragraph 12).
Yet why are the images still on the web? The fact of the matter is that Google Earth imagery is not the most accurate geographic data available. GeoEye for instance sells “commercial satellite imagery” of “Iran’s nuclear sites, CIA headquarters, even the top secret Air Force testing site, Area 51, in Nevada” (Weinberger, 2008, paragraph 3)Furthermore, if it were not for Google Earth, terrorists could just use regular maps or even get hold of imagery through the black market. Google Earth’s imagery may be very accurate but the data is not displayed as real time, as a matter of fact, the images are quite outdated. Google Earth is a tool and cannot possibly assume the blame for the wrongdoing of individuals or groups.
Finally, Google Earth has the potential to play a role of check and balance, necessary to maintaining democracy and its values. We can keep our governments in check and maintain transparency to a certain extent. Governments and the people are to decide what should be the limit, security being a priority, but never over freedom.
Rhys Blakely, 2008, Google Earth accused of aiding terrorists, The Sunday Times Online
Kelly Hearn, 2007, Terrorist Use of Google Earth Raises Security Fears, National Geographic News
Sharon Weinberger, Can You Spot the Chinese Nuclear Sub? Discover: