Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, our country and our world has entered a state of “High Alert” in an attempt to thwart the next attack on our troops and our homeland. Yet, the actions taken because of this sensitivity can be overdone, as the threats are often over-exaggerated or misguided. More specifically, the idea of Google Earth, an online-based digital 3D globe of satellite imagery overlaid with geographic, political, and human-interest information, as a threat to American security is overblown. This threat is highly overstated due to common misconceptions about the relevance of imagery, the cooperation of Google with the US Government, and the pervasiveness of other comparable resources throughout the digital world.
The first reason why Google Earth should cause no alarm is no images can be found which are considered classified or restricted by the US. In addition, the satellite imagery is only updated roughly every year and a half, meaning that it is by no means an indicator of current conditions (Swartz, 2006, para. 11). Google Earth serves more like a somewhat up-to-date, detailed map and not a live streaming snooping device to track real-time conditions.
Secondly, possible threats to US security found in Google Earth imagery can easily be found and be either removed or blurred to remove any threat. In many instances, possible security weaknesses have been quickly detected and prevented by cooperation between US government agencies and Google Earth. For example, when military officials discovered dangerously descriptive imagery of Fort Sam Houston in 2007, Google was quickly alerted and the images were promptly removed (Weinberger, 2008, “The Breaches”). Similar cases have proven that in the event of possible security threats from Google Earth, despite their rarity, Google is willing and eager to cooperate with US government and military officials to maintain proper security.
Finally, the most telling factor in support of Google Earth is the availability of similar or even more dangerous information apart from Google’s program. This includes digital competitors such as NASA’s World Wind, which provide satellite geographic information just like Google Earth. Also, private corporations sell detailed satellite imagery, as 31 different countries operate imaging satellites (Weinberger, 2008, “The Breaches”). Most of all, Google by no means has a monopoly on the ability to access detailed geographic information. The same information can easily be acquired by anyone by just walking around with a GPS device and a map (Eisler, 2008, para. 17).
The lack of relevant information, almost always at least a year out of date, the cooperation of Google with the Federal Government to assure safety, and the ease of access to the same information offered by Google from other sources point towards the fact that the threat of Google Earth itself to US security is at worst, low. The most telling fact is that the US Department of Defense, America’s chief security source, has done nothing to prevent the release of Google Earth (Hearn, 2007, para. 20). Rest assured America, if the top security officials of the most powerful country in the world are not losing any sleep over it, neither should we.
Blakely, R. (2008, December 9). Google Earth accused of aiding terrorists. Times Online Retrieved fromhttp://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/the_web/article5311241.ece
Eisler, P. (2008, November 7). Google Earth Helps Yet Worries Government. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/surveillance/2008-11-06-googleearth_N.htm
Hearn, K. (2007, March 12). Terrorist Use of Google Earth Raises Security Fears. National Geographic News. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/03/070312-google-censor.html
Swartz, N. (2006). Google Earth Scares Governments. Information Management Journal 40(2), 20.
Weinberger, S. (2008). Can you spot the Chinese nuclear sub? Discover 29(8), 30. Retrieved fromhttp://discovermagazine.com/2008/aug/21-can-you-spot-the-chinese-nuclear-sub