Friday, October 26, 2007

Google Earth Being Used by Terrorists, Again

Terrorist can bridge the gap of little more than two miles and aim their rockets at targets using the latest free geotechnology (click to enlarge)

Going around the various blogs and e-mail accounts of geographers is the Guardian story of how Fatah-allied terrorists are using Google Earth to target missiles at the small town of Sderot, Israel (video of a launch).

This is not the first time terrorists have used the free, high-quality imagery of Google Earth for evil purposes. Shiite terrorists used Google Earth as a sort of God-eye's spy to target the inside of British bases in Iraq. The attacks were such an issue that the British managed to persuade Google to use pre-Iraq War imagery instead; so that the terrorists could not target what they were unable to see.

While the egalitarianism of geotechology can be good like saving time driving, it like all tools can be used for nefarious purposes. There is a debate roaring about the balance of freedom of information versus security. Some countries ban the use of Google Earth while others have successfully "requested" Google censor or blur "critical" locations. Other mapping programs such as GeoPortail have white spaces where key military structures are.

Except more censorship issues as those who seek ill use Google Earth for their own purposes. A brave new future indeed.


Stefan Geens said...

I know of only one successful request by a government to degrade imagery in Google Earth, and that was the Basra imagery, which was replaced with older imagery.

All the other imagery that has sensored bits in it arrived at Google that way. Google doesn't have to use it.

Catholicgauze said...

Hi Stefan,
From the Times of India "Google Earth agrees to blur pix of key Indian sites" Link

I also believe the Royal Stables of Belgium are pixelated at Belgium's request (though I can't seem to find my source at the moment)

Stefan Geens said...

Re India: Google agreed to no such thing. The Times of India suffered from a case of wishful thinking brought on from excessive nationalism. Google simply accepted a list of sites India would like censored. The sites are not censored. Link

As for the Belgian royal stables -- I haven't heard of that one. I would be very surprised if Google has anything to do with it.

cokaygne said...

In the US at least, I should think that Google has a first amendment right to publish the imagery available to it. Acceding to the British request on Basra was a praiseworthy act of good will. If Google can get this imagery, is it not just a matter of time before terrorists find a way to obtain it?

goethe girl said...

Is "Freedom of information" actually constitutionally protected in the U.S. or enshrined in any international charter? I know there is a "Freedom of Information Act," but has it been challenged in court? FOI has to be balanced by security. I don't see where FOI is relevant to the First Amendment, the purpose of which was to give citizens the right to address (by speech or writing) wrongs of government. I would not call this Google Earth case censorship.

cokaygne said...

goethe girl, my comment was about Google's first amendment right to publish. I agree the FOI does not convey a constitutional right to get info from the government. However Google gets its images - there are sources other than NASA, it is up to Google to use them or not use them.